If this type of alert pops up on your computer, DON’T click on it!

Have you seen this? You are working on your computer and everything seems fine when all of a sudden – POP! – a pop-up window alerts you that your PC is infected with a virus and you must “click here” or “remove all” to run a scan or install and upgrade antivirus software. Your first reaction is to panic and clicks the warning to run the antivirus. That is what the crooks are counting on. This is a common scareware tactic.  Hackers use social engineering strategies to get you to click and download a virus or other form of malware.

scareware pop-up fake antivirus

This technique is not new, it’s been around for a long time; in fact, back in 2009 FBI issued a warning about anti-virus scareware on their website (now archived): “The message may display what appears to be a real-time, anti-virus scan of your hard drive. The scareware will show a list of reputable software icons; however, you can’t click a link to go to the real site to review or see recommendations. Cybercriminals use botnets—collections of compromised computers—to push the software, and advertisements on websites deliver it. This is known as malicious advertising or “malvertising”…” (FBI National Press Office, Washington, D.C.)

According to the FBI, in 2015 3,294 incidents of scareware crime (among other internet crimes) were reported. If you have been a victim of scareware, you can file a complaint with the FBI.

Important to remember: scareware often appears to be a PC system warning or a Microsoft alert. Regardless of how legit it appears to be, NEVER click on the suggested link or the pop-up altogether.

Here is what to do right away if you see a fake anti-virus pop-up

First, the safest thing is to not touch the pop-up window altogether, but rather to close your entire browser: do not click on the X in the upper corner, do not click on “Close” or “Cancel” options in the pop-up window. Clicking on anything on the page or pop-up will trigger a virus download. If you are unable to make it work, here is what you can also try: start up your task manager (hold Control + Alt + Delete on a PC and Command + Option + Esc to “Force Quit” on a Mac) and close the web browser or application where it appeared.

Next, notify your IT department (us!) that this has happened to double-check with a legitimate scan if your computer was infected.

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