It is easy to get caught up in an antivirus scam; they seem to pop up every time you open your computer. Antivirus scams can come from popups and emails, and many look like they are from legitimate companies like Apple or Microsoft. Some scammers have even started using antivirus software as their front, sneaking malware onto our computer under the guise of a legitimate program.
There are three common antivirus scams that can end up costing you a lot of money.
So, if scammers are using antivirus software to implant malware, how can seniors tell the real from the fake? Well, this article will cover the Top 3 Antivirus Scams, how to identify them, explain what antivirus software does, and how to choose a legitimate antivirus software that can protect your personal information.
What is Antivirus Software?
Antivirus software is created to “prevent, search for, detect, and remove software viruses, and other malicious software.” All seniors have been continuously warned about malware, phishing, and internet bots; well, antivirus software is supposed to help keep our personal information personal.
AntiVirus software is supposed to perform vital functions such as:
- Scan for any malware or known malicious patterns
- Remove malicious code
- Set up scheduled scans to run automatically
- Initiate a scan for a particular file or drive
- Initiate a scan for your computer outside of the scheduled scan
- Display the current ‘health’ of your computer
Top 3 Antivirus Scams and How to Identify Them
There are three primary antivirus scams that easily trap unsuspecting seniors. Though these scams operate differently, they all have one thing in common, they all want your money. Some of the scams are set up for identity theft, some to steal money, and some do both. The three common antivirus scams to be on the lookout for are:
- Fake Antivirus Software
- The Imposter
Fake Antivirus Software
According to McAfee, a leader in the antivirus software industry, “Fake antivirus software is one of the most persistent threats on the Internet today.”
These businesses posing as legitimate antivirus software companies have professional looking websites, so there is no way to tell just by looking at their site to know that they are a fake. These scammers are set up to sell you fake antivirus software. Then after you paid and downloaded the software, everything seems to be right as rain.
But instead of downloading the antivirus software, you thought you purchased, you instead end up with malware. Malware is programmed to send your personal information such as user names, passwords, credit card numbers, bank account information, and more back to the criminals. Some malware is even programmed to cause damage to your computer.
What is worse is that you don’t even know it is happening until it is too late. Malware often downloads without the computer user’s knowledge. And in this scenario, since you downloaded it yourself, there is no reason for you to suspect anything is wrong.
In a fake antivirus software scam, you end up getting ripped off twice. First, when you bought the software and second when the criminals stole your personal information. Unfortunately, once installed, these programs can be very challenging to remove.
So how can you identify the real from the fake? Use your search browser to research the company. Type the company name with the word “fake” after it to see what comes up; if it is a fake company, a lot of links that will appear with methods to remove the malware from your computer.
Some of the antivirus scams use trusted names such as Microsoft, Apple, or even McAfee. These scams usually come via email, with an urgent message for you to log into your account to update or correct information.
Some of these emails may offer a gift card for logging in and filling out a survey; other emails may tell of a threat to your computer, and to avoid issues, you need to go to their website. Regardless of what message is in the email, they all have one thing in common, a hyperlink.
Once you click on the hyperlink, the malware program has access to your computer and can download without your notice or knowledge. Think of clicking on the hyperlink as opening a cyber door to a criminal. Once they have access to your computer, they can steal all of your information, including things like social security numbers, passwords, and more.
The good news is there are two ways to identify if the email is legitimate. First, go to the email address area on the email and click on the sender’s name so that you can view the full address.
A legitimate email will reflect something like JohnDoe@Apple.com or CustomerService@Microsoft.com. Whereas, fake emails may be a series of random numbers and letters with an unfamiliar business name or generic email host. Or it may read firstname.lastname@example.org or some other random hostname.
The other thing to check for is if you clicked on the link, look at the web address. It may look similar to the real deal, but a character or two may be off. For example, instead of Microsoft.com, it will read Micr0s0ft.com replacing a letter “O” with the number “0.”
Antivirus scams also go by the name scareware, which is an apt name because scammers use scare tactics to get you to download their software.
Scareware is an online popup that randomly appears on your computer, stating that your computer has been infected with a virus. The popup often has the yellow triangle symbol with the exclamation mark in the middle, which makes it look both more legitimate and more urgent.
The message starts with “WARNING,” followed by the false statement that your computer has been infected. Next, the message will indicate directions on how to get this problem fixed, often emphasizing that you must take swift action or risk losing vital data.
The message will direct you to one of two places. First, it may provide you an 800 number that is staffed by fellow scammers answering the phone as if they were tech support. The fake tech support company may use a made-up name or act as an imposter to a legitimate company such as Xfinity or CenturyLink.
If it is not a phone number, they tell you to call; it will be a hyperlink that redirects you to a false website. The website, like the call center, is either a fake or an imposter.
After taking action, either the phone call or the hyperlink, you are asked to buy antivirus software to eliminate the current virus as well as protect against future threats. And this is how scammers get your credit card number and payment for the fake antivirus software. After payment, they will then aid you in downloading the malware onto your computer to attain the rest of your personal information.
However, according to Norton, a top antivirus software company, there are a few different scareware red flags to keep an eye out for to help avoid being scammed:
- The pop-up makes the virus sound catastrophic
- Urges you to act now to avoid further damage and loss of information
- The pop-ups are difficult to close and often triggers more pop-ups
- The software company is unknown to you
- The ad states they are scanning your computer now, then will start listing fake viruses
Choosing Antivirus Software
Though it would be great to tell you that there is a fail-safe software solution available, the truth is that software programming is continually changing, and there is no one fix.
However, the good news is that there some excellent antivirus software solutions available. Here are a few factors to consider before shopping for antivirus software:
- What and how many devices need the software
There is a wide price range for antivirus software. And going cheaper does not necessarily mean you are getting less protection while at the same time, most of the more expensive options have more features than the average user needs.
Also, when looking for the right antivirus software, do your own search, do not rely on ads sent to your email. And though you don’t need to buy the most expensive software, neither do you want to choose a knock off brand that may or may not be legitimate.
Start your search with a third party company that tests and evaluates the different antivirus software products on the market, such as AV-Test group or AV-Comparatives. Additionally, choosing an antivirus software program from a more reliable company such as Norton, Trend Micro, or Cisco may be one of the best choices since several offer helpline support in addition to the software.