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Spyware & key-loggers

What are spyware and key-loggers?

Spyware is a type of malicious software (also called ‘malware’) that scammers try to install on your computer. As the name suggests, spyware programs allow people to spy on what you are doing on your computer: the websites you visit, the files you use and the details you store on your PC. Key-loggers are a particular type of spyware.

Key-loggers secretly record what keys you press on your keyboard and sends this data back to the scammer over the internet.

Scammers use these programs to steal passwords such as online banking passwords. They may also use spyware to steal other personal information from you such as documents that you have stored on your computer.

Scammers use a wide range of tricks to get their spyware and key-loggers loaded on to your computer. This usually involves tricking you into clicking on a link in a spam email they have sent, or visiting a website that they have set up solely to infect people’s computers. Other sources of spyware and key-loggers are free games or music that you can download from the internet. When they are delivered in this way, they are sometimes called ‘Trojans’—a file that claims to be for some harmless purpose so it can get under your guard, but in fact contains a nasty surprise.

Warning signs

  • You visit a website or click on a link contained in a spam email.
  • A pop-up box appears on your screen which may have a simple question or a button that says ‘close’. Just by clicking on this, you may be allowing the spyware to be downloaded.
  • You notice new icons on your computer screen, or your computer is not as fast as it normally is.
  • Music files, games, or access to adult sites is offered free of charge as long as you download a particular program or agree to a pop-up box.

Protect yourself from spyware and key-loggers

  • Use your common sense: the offer may be a scam.
  • Read all the terms and conditions of any offer very carefully: claims of free or very cheap offers often have hidden costs.
  • Do not open suspicious or unsolicited emails (spam): delete them.
  • Do not click on any links in a spam email, or open any files attached to them.
  • Install software that protects your computer from viruses and unwanted programs and make sure it is kept up-to-date.
  • Beware of free websites and downloads (such as music, adult sites, games, movies). They may install harmful programs without you knowing.
  • Do not use software on your computer that auto-completes online forms. This can give internet scammers easy access to your personal and credit card details.

As well as following these specific tips, find out how to protect yourself from all sorts of other scams.

Do your homework

If you are asked to or want to download an internet file, make sure it is from a reputable source. If the file is a program (for example, the file name ends with .exe) make sure you know exactly what it will do.

If a pop-up box appears on your screen and asks you if you ‘agree’ or ‘accept’, read the question and any terms and conditions carefully.

If you are unsure about any download or website, you can seek advice from your Internet Service Provider or local computer shop.


Ask if the website you plan to visit or the link you plan to follow is what it seems. Do you know enough about the website or link to feel confident in visiting? Is the promise of a free game, song or website access blinding you to the risk that these things might be bait used by scammers?

If you do want to download programs from sources that you are not 100% sure about, at the very least you should have up-to-date software installed on your computer to protect it from viruses, spyware and key-loggers.

Report them

If you think you have seen a spyware or key-logging scam, you can let the authorities know through the report a scam section of SCAMwatch. You should also warn your family and friends about the scheme or product.

If you think your computer has been the target of a spyware or key-logger scam and you have used your computer for online banking, you should telephone your bank or credit union and change your passwords. Check to make sure that no suspicious transactions have taken place on your account.

Make sure you remove the offending program and anything similar to it from your computer before you use it again. You may need to take you computer to a computer technician if you are not sure how to do this.


What to do if you've been scammed; Scams & the law; Report a scam.

Similar scams:

Online auctions can be rigged by scammers or used to target you for a scam outside of the auction site. You could end up with a dud product or nothing at all for your money.

Scams that send you a fake renewal notice for your actual domain name, or a misleading invoice for a domain name that is very similar to your own.

Spam emails, SMS or MMS usually offer free goods or ‘prizes’, very cheap products or promises of wealth. Responding to spam messages can result problems for you computer and your bank account.

Offers of ‘free’ website access, downloads, holidays, shares or product trials – but you have to supply your credit card or other personal details.

Modem-jacking scams secretly change the phone number dial-up modems use to access the internet to an overseas or premium rate phone number. You could pay hundreds of dollars extra.

Card skimming is the illegal copying of information from the magnetic strip of a credit or ATM card. This can create a fake or ‘cloned’ card with your details on it.

Phishing emails are fake emails usually pretending to be from banks or other financial institutions. They make up some reason for you to give your account details and then use these details to steal your money.

Dating and romance scams try to lower your defences by appealing to your romantic or compassionate side. They play on emotional triggers to get you to provide money, gifts or personal details.

There are many types of scams that aim to steal your credit card details, either by taking the card itself or by tricking you into giving them the card’s details.

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