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How to spot common internet scams

Tips to make sure you avoid being caught out by online scammers

One of the most popular ways for online scammers to try and extort money is to prey on unsuspecting victims and convince them their computer has been infected by a virus. We advise you on how to easily spot if you are being scammed and how to tell if your data really is at risk.

Imagine you’re browsing the web looking up the latest weather report, cinema times or news flash and suddenly a warning pops up on your screen. It might take the form of a large red cross, a yellow triangle with an exclamation mark or a grey dialogue box – but either way the message will be the same: your computer has been infected by a virus and you’re at serious risk of losing all your data or being hacked. You’re given a number to call or a link to visit where you can resolve this problem quickly to ensure your computer is totally protected and secure.

The problem is that the pop-up warning IS the scam. And what makes this type of scam so dangerous is not only does it take advantage of the very thing you would want to protect your computer against – an infection by a malicious third party – but the warning messages also resemble legitimate warnings you might have seen from bona fide security companies in the past.

If you are duped by this type of scam, you could end up shelling out cash for some useless ‘security’ software or a computer clean-up that is completely fake and designed to get money out of you.

Once you call the hotline number listed on the warning, or visit the link given to clean up your computer, you’ll be asked for your credit card details and other personal information in order to buy security software that will allegedly protect you against infection, and will remove the current virus.

Make sure you have trustable and dependable antivirus software, such as Bullguard Internet Security, and don’t take any notice of messsages that pop up in your browser from other supposed security companies

Of course, the scammer will do nothing of the sort. What they’ll actually do is take your money and then use all the sensitive personal details they’ve just collected to carry out further ID theft, for example siphoning more money out of your bank account or selling your data on to other malicious users.

And worse, it might be that if you try to do the sensible thing and close the warning box, that still triggers problems. Some of these fake scams are set up so that if you hit the ‘x’ in the window to shut the box down, you’ll be infected with loads of pop-up ads and it could even lead to your computer freezing.

So what can you do to protect yourself from these scams?

1. Don’t click on links or attachments from untrusted users. Fake virus alerts and pop-up warnings will often be enabled by you unknowingly downloading a Trojan program to your computer that takes control of your machine. This is done by the online scammer sending out an email or social network message that gets you to click on a link or open an attachment that triggers the Trojan.

The Trojan is then able to trigger the fake pop-up alert, or it might have even downloaded malicious code into your computer via a ‘free virus scan’. For full details on how to avoid this, read our article on protecting yourself against phishing scams.

2. Call your security provider before sharing any personal details online or over the phone with unknown third parties. And don’t just reply to an email from them or call the number in the pop-up box. Visit their legitimate website and find the number to call so you know it’s the real company. For instance, the BullGuard support line is staffed 24/7 by experts who are familiar with all the latest threats and scams.

3. Don’t click on any pop-up adverts or warning messages that say you’ve been infected or are trying to sell you antivirus or anti-spyware software. These boxes are likely to install exactly the kinds of malicious software you’re trying to protect your machine against.

4. If you get a warning box on your screen, don’t click it or close it down using your mouse or trackpad in the normal way. Instead, hit control-shift-escape. This will bring up a menu of all the programs your computer is currently running. From there, you should be able to locate the fake, unwanted program and hit End Process or End Task to get rid of it. Then make sure you put in a call to your security provider following the advice in step 2 to ensure your machine is clean and okay to use.

5. Be very wary about downloading free software from the web. Before running anything free on your machine, do some research online to make sure it’s from a known and legitimate provider. Otherwise you might end up downloading a nasty program along with the software you wanted.

6. Keep your computer’s antivirus and security software, such as BullGuard Internet Security, up to date, and make sure you choose the highest level of security settings for your machine. This way, you’ll be more confident that sudden warnings and alerts are likely to be scams because you know your machine is protected from the latest threats.

This is an independent guide from the Expert Reviews editorial team. This content was produced to the same impartial standards as the main content on our site but paid for by BullGuard.

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