How to spot and Avoid Computer Scams and more...

Has this ever happened to you? - You’re browsing online when a pop-up ad appears on your screen warning that your computer is infected with dozens of viruses. The ad says that you can remove them by buying antivirus software that will immediately eliminate them.

If you’ve seen this, you’ve been hit with a scareware attack. Scareware is a scam in which cybercriminals attempt to gain access to your credit card information, and often your computer itself, by tricking you into buying fake antivirus software. The prices they charge for these fake antivirus programs vary, but you might be asked to shell out $29, $50, or even $100.

If you fall for this trick and install the program on your computer, not only will you have given up your credit card information to a scammer, you’ll also have installed malware on your computer. The scammers can use this malware to access your files, send out fake emails in your name, or track your online activity. Fortunately, you can avoid scareware by keeping your computer’s programs updated, installing real antivirus software, and relying on a bit of common sense.

What are the scareware warning signs? - The first step to protecting yourself is to recognize the warning signs of scareware. The pop-up ad is especially dire and the makers of scareware want to frighten you so that you’re more likely to purchase their fake product. That’s why the text of these pop-up ads usually contains dire warnings that your computer is infected with hundreds of viruses, or that these viruses will immediately cause your computer to crash. The more menacing the claims are, the more likely you are dealing with scareware.

The ads warn you to act fast - Speed is important to scareware scammers, too. The people behind these attacks want you to purchase and install their malware quickly, before you have a chance to think about it. If a pop-up demands that you act immediately, it’s probably scareware.

The pop-ups are exceptionally hard to close - Scammers want their scareware pop-ups to remain on your computer screen as long as possible. If it’s difficult to close the pop-up ads, or if clicking on the “X” button to close them instead brings up more warnings, you’re likely dealing with scareware.

You’ve never heard of the software company - If the name of the antivirus software being hawked is one you don’t recognize, that’s another likely sign that you are being scammed. Some known names of fake security software often referred to as rogue security software include Advanced Cleaner, SpyWiper, System Defender, UltimateCleaner and many others.

They’ll immediately “scan” your computer for viruses - To make their warnings seem even scarier, many of these scareware pop-ups will seemingly start scanning your computer for viruses, displaying a list of the dozens or hundreds of viruses they claim to be uncovering. However, scareware programs aren’t really scanning your computer. The results they’re showing are fake.

Why do fraudsters use scareware? - There’s a reason why scammers turn to scareware so often: it’s an effective way for them to steal your credit card information, trick you out of your money, and gain access to your computer. If you click on the button to download a rogue security program, you’ll often be taken to a payment screen where you can enter your credit card information. Not only will you be charged for a security program that doesn’t work, you’ll have provided your financial information to a scammer.

You might later start receiving messages from the same rogue security software asking you to upgrade to a more expensive version. Again, the scam here is to trick you into paying for something you don’t need. Other forms of scareware might disable any existing antivirus program on your computer or install malware or spyware on your machine. Once this happens, the scammers might gain access to your computer’s saved files, take over operation of your computer, track your surfing, or steal even more of your personal and financial information. The installed software might also slow down your computer, prevent you from installing legitimate security software, and fill your screen with annoying pop-up ads.

What should you do about scareware? - What if an ad pops up on your screen with dire warnings that your computer is infected? Never click on its "download" button. Always close the ad. Just be careful: Some scareware is difficult to close and is designed to trick you into accidentally starting a download. It’s best to close your browser rather than the individual pop-up ad. If the pop-up ad won’t let you close the browser on your PC, try Ctrl-Alt-Delete to shut things down (if you’re a Mac user, try Command-Option-Esc to open the Force Quit applications window). If you can’t close your browser, do a hard shutdown of your computer.

Never provide credit card information or other personal information in response to one of these scareware ads.

Don’t let a scareware ad frighten you away from purchasing legitimate security software, such as the products offered by Norton.

Never download anything from a company whose name you don’t recognize. And be careful of fakes. Many scareware scammers will use names that sound like the names of legitimate antivirus programs.

4 ways to avoid scareware on the internet

1. Keep your browser updated - Updates can be annoying, but don’t ignore them. By quickly approving updates to your browser, you’ll give yourself the most protection from scareware pop-ups. It’s best to use automatic updating to keep your browser and computer programs constantly updated.

2. Keep pop-up blockers turned on - If you can prevent pop-ups, your screen won’t get filled with advertisements for fake security programs.

3. Install a legitimate antivirus program on your devices - You need to protect your devices with a legitimate antivirus program from a company you recognize. And when that company releases an update, make sure to install it quickly. Updated antivirus software is your best protection from scareware.

4. If a pop-up does show up, resist the urge to click - Never click on any links or “download” buttons on pop-ups.

Most common types of scams (Technical and non-Technical)

Advance fee fraud
A scammer requests fees upfront or personal information in return for goods, services, money or rewards that they never supply. Scammers invent convincing and seemingly genuine reasons for requesting payment, such as to cover fees or taxes. They often ask for payment by international wire transfer. These scams are commonly mass-marketed with scammers sending them out to thousands of people all over the world at the same time, usually by mail or email.

Lottery, sweepstakes and competition scams
An email, letter or text message from an overseas lottery or sweepstakes company arrives from out of nowhere. It says you have won a lot of money or fantastic prizes in a lottery or sweepstakes competition you did not enter. These scams try to trick you into giving money upfront or your personal details in order to receive the prize. Scammers typically claim that you need to pay fees or taxes before your winnings or prize can be released. You may also have to call or text a premium rate phone number to claim your prize. Remember you cannot win a prize if you haven’t entered.

Dating and romance scams
Scammers create fake profiles on legitimate dating websites. They use these profiles to try to enter into a relationship with you so they can get a hold of your money and personal details. The scammer will develop a strong rapport with you then ask for money to help cover costs associated with illness, injury, travel or a family crisis. Scammers seek to exploit your emotions by pulling on your heart strings. Sometimes the scammers will take months and months to build up the rapport.

Computer hacking
Phishing emails are commonly used by scammers to trick you into giving them access to your computer. They ‘fish’ for your personal details by encouraging you to click on a link or attachment. If you click, malicious software will be installed and the hacker will have access to files and information stored on your computer. A phishing email often appears to come from an organisation that you know and trust, like a bank or financial institution, asking you to enter your account password on a fake copy of the site’s login page. If you provide your account details, the scammer can hack into your account and take control of your profile.

Online shopping, classified and auction scams
Scammers like shopping online for victims. Not getting what you paid for is a common scam targeting online shoppers. A scammer will sell a product and send a faulty or inferior quality item, or nothing at all. They may also pretend to sell a product just to gather your credit card or bank account details. These scams can also be found on reputable online classified pages. An online auction scam involves a scammer claiming that you have a second chance to buy an item that you placed a bid on because the winner has pulled out. The scammer will ask you to pay outside of the auction site’s secure payment facility. If you do, your money will be lost and the auction site will not be able to help you. You may also get what is called an 'Overpaymnet Scam'. The scammer will contact you, make you an offer, often quite generous then make payment through credit card or check. They will be for an amount that is greater than the agreed price. The scammer will contact you with an apology for the overpayment, offering a fake excuse. The scammer might tell you that the extra money was included to cover agent's fees or extra shipping costs. Or they may just say they simply made a mistake when writing the check. The scammer will then ask you to refund the excess amount or they will ask for you to forward the amount through to a third party. They will ask for this to through an online banking transfer, pre-loaded money card, or a wire transfer such as Western Union. You then discover that their check has bounced or the credit card had been a stolen or fake card.

Banking, credit card and online account scams
Scammers send emails or text messages that appear to be from your bank, a financial institution or an online payment service. They usually claim that there is a problem with your account and request that you verify your details on a fake but convincing copy of the bank’s website. Card skimming is the copying of information from the magnetic strip of a credit card or automatic teller machine (ATM) card. Scammers skim your card by putting a discreet attachment on an ATM or EFTPOS machine. They may even install a camera to capture your pin. Once your card is skimmed, scammers can create copies and make charges to your account.

IRS and Social Security scams - Taxpayers should be on the lookout for new variations of tax-related scams. In the latest twist on a scam related to Social Security numbers, scammers claim to be able to suspend or cancel the victim’s SSN. It’s yet another attempt by con artists to frighten people into returning ‘robocall’ voicemails. Scammers may mention overdue taxes in addition to threatening to cancel the person’s SSN. If taxpayers receive a call threatening to suspend their SSN for an unpaid tax bill, they should just hang up.

Taxpayers should not give out sensitive information over the phone unless they are positive they know the caller is legitimate. When in doubt hang up. Here are some telltale signs of this scam. The IRS and its authorized private collection agencies will never: Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, iTunes gift card or wire transfer. The IRS does not use these methods for tax payments. Ask a taxpayer to make a payment to a person or organization other than the U.S. Treasury. Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have the taxpayer arrested for not paying. Demand taxes be paid without giving the taxpayer the opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed.

Small business scams
If you own a small business you can be targeted by scams such as the issuing of fake bills for unwanted or unauthorised listings, advertisements, products or services.A well-known example is where you receive a bill for a listing in a supposedly well-known business directory. Scammers trick you to sign up by disguising the offer as an outstanding invoice or a free entry, but with a hidden subscription agreement in the fine print. Scammers can also call your business pretending that a service or product has already been ordered and ask for payment over the phone.

Job and employment scams
These scams involve offers to work from home or set up and invest in a business opportunity. Scammers promise a job, high salary or large investment return following initial upfront payments. These payments may be for a business plan, training course, software, uniforms, security clearance, taxes or fees. These scams are often promoted through spam email or advertisements in well-known classifieds, including websites.

Golden opportunity and gambling scams
Scams often begin with an unexpected phone call or email from a scammer offering a not-to-be-missed high return or guaranteed investment in shares, real estate, options or foreign currency trading. While it may seem convincing, in reality the scammer will take your money and you will never receive the promised returns. Another scam promises to accurately predict the results of horse races, sports events, stock market movements or lotteries. Scammers promise you huge returns based on past results and trends. In order to participate, you may be asked to pay for membership fees, special calculators, newsletter subscriptions or computer software programs.

Charity and medical scams
Scammers are unscrupulous and take advantage of people who want to donate to a good cause or find an answer to a health problem. Charity scams involve scammers collecting money by pretending to work for a legitimate cause or charity, or a fictitious one they have created. Often scammers will exploit a recent natural disaster or crisis that has been in the news. They may also play on your emotions by claiming to collect for a cause that will secure your sympathy, for example to help sick children. Medical scams offer a range of products and services that can appear to be legitimate alternative medicines, usually promising quick and effective remedies for serious medical conditions. The treatments are often promoted using false testimonies from people who have been cured.

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