"Your computer is infected" fake anti-virus pop-up alert scams

16 December 2008

"Warning—your computer is infected! System detected virus activities. They may cause critical system failure. Click here to get available software."

You may be one of the numerous people who have received similar pop-up alerts. They commonly appear after you open an email attachment, download files, visit websites programmed to download malicious software or click on a pop-up advertisement.

SCAMwatch warns consumers to be wary of fake anti-virus alerts. NEVER click on pop-up anti-virus alerts.

Scammers often use the names of well-known companies that specialise in computer software to gain your trust. The pop-up advertisements aim to mimic genuine warning alerts generated by computer security software.

The software or "free scan" offered in pop-up alerts often doesn't work or actually infects your computer with the dangerous programs it is supposed to protect against.

This scam aims to either charge you for bogus software and/or obtain your personal information. Once your computer is infected, the scammer commonly gathers personal information to steal your identity or to sell it to other criminals.

Although the majority of anti-virus pop-up alerts are fake, there is an off-chance that you have received a legitimate virus warning. If you are unsure whether it is a genuine warning, check the official virus page of your anti-virus vendor or ask a computer professional.

Warning signs

  • Fake anti-virus spyware programs often generate more "alerts" than the software made by reputable companies.
  • You may be bombarded with pop-up alerts, even when you're not online. 
     
  • Scammers commonly use high pressure sales tactics to convince you to buy NOW!
     
  • The alert may request you to pass on the "warning" to "others in your address book" or "everyone you know". 
     
  • Broken or oddly phrased English.
     
  • The message is not addressed to a specified recipient, instead it is addressed to the 'account holder' or uses another generic title.
  • If your computer has been infected, it may dramatically slow down. Other signs that your computer has been infected include new desktop icons, new wallpaper or your default homepage is redirected to another site.

Protect yourself

  • NEVER click on pop-up alerts! Don't even click on the cross to delete the pop-up alert as this may result in getting more pop-ups. Instead, hit control + alt + delete to view a list of programs currently running and delete the pop-up alert from the list of running programs.
  • Use reputable pop-up blocker software to avoid pop-ups on your computer.
  • Keep your computer updated with the latest anti-virus and anti-spy ware software. Also use a good firewall.
  • NEVER open email attachments unless you can verify the sender and you trust them.
  • NEVER click on the links in spam email.
  • NEVER rely on the contact details provided in a pop-up message. Instead, find your anti-virus vendor's contact details through an internet search.
  • Avoid questionable websites. Some sites may automatically download malicious software on to your computer.

Report

Report the matter to the ACCC's Infocentre on 1300 302 502 or visit the report a scam page in SCAMwatch.

More information

Explore SCAMwatch to find out more about scams that commonly target Australians.

Read more