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.
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.
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.
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.