Protect your computer from 'scareware'

Many computer users have come across that pop-up that offers a free security scan while you are surfing the Internet. It may be tempting, but could also be a huge mistake.

Some programs that offer to protect your computer from viruses are actually something called "scareware." /*Scareware*/ is software that makes you believe you have a problem and that their software can fix it. The problem is that scareware could infect your computer instead of fixing it.

"Scareware is a series of fake security alerts that tries to redirect users to a site that can, in turn, sell them bogus software to fix a problem that people don't really have," said Joe Ridout, /*Consumer Action*/.

The pop-up tells you to run a free scan. If you click "yes," it will inevitably find an error. The software then tells you it will fix it for a fee. However, there was really no virus at all.

"The scan is entirely bogus. There is nothing wrong with your computer and you've just wasted your money," said Dan Salsburg, /*Federal Trade Commission*/.

In some cases, it may actually infect your computer. The virus you end up with could put you at a deeper risk for identity theft or financial fraud.

"Many of these viruses could have keystroke logging software that could capture your financial and personal information," said Ridout.

The Federal Trade Commission says there are millions of victims already. They recently won court injunctions to stop several operations, but many more are out there. Plus, it's easy to fall for the ads, considering where the pop-ups appear.

"The businesses running the scareware scams would place real ads, but would embed extra code to redirect users away from the legitimate sites on to the scam artist sites," said Ridout.

There are plenty of legitimate companies offering computer protection software, but the FTC says it's hard to tell which pop-up is safe without a deeper search. So if you see an offer, it's best to shut down your browser immediately.

"This doesn't mean clicking the little 'X' box. This doesn't mean clicking 'No' or 'Cancel.' all those can be programmed by the purveyor to actually install the scareware," said Salsburg.

Ed Basil spends hours a day on his computer. He knows to stay clear of these pop-ups. Instead, he does what the experts advise and uses his own security software that came with his computer. He also keeps that software current.

"You want to be on the safe side," said Basil.

You can purchase anti-virus software, or use a trusted free program to make sure you are protected. The Consumer Action expert recommends a few free programs such as /*AVG*/, /*Spybot*/ or /*avast!*/ 4.7.



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