Scareware and Computer Scams

What is scareware, and what does it do? Since the beginning of this year, our computer repair shop alone has helped at least 10 people who fell or almost fell victim to scareware attacks. In short, scareware is a form of computer attack that online scammers use to scare a computer’s user.  Have you ever had a random popup on your computer saying that your computer is compromised, so you must call or click on something to “fix” the problem? That is scareware. Online scammers first attack the computer’s user using scare tactics to gain access to the user’s computer. So, they often use popups like the one you can see in the image and video below. You can only combat scareware by understanding how it works, and that is the purpose of this article.


Online Scams & Popups

Scareware has evolved over the years. Most anti-viruses are quite effective today in terms of blocking malicious software if the virus definitions are up to date. Also, most users are cautious about what they download from the internet today than 10 years ago, as far as I can tell. In the past, you had to download malicious software first before you had a fake anti-virus popup, saying that your computer was infected.

The goal of scareware has always been to trick the user into taking some action, which included purchasing a fake anti-virus, or to run code that would further compromise your PC, and so on. Today, however, you don’t have to download anything to get a malicious popup on your PC or Mac computer. All it takes is an outdated web browser or a malicious web browser extension for malicious code to exploit your system’s weaknesses, including your system’s notifications. As you can see from the image above, the graphics design on this popup is very convincing! Remember, online scammers are not afraid to use logos from legitimate companies like Microsoft, Amazon, UPS, etc., to look legit.

How Scareware Scams Work

If you see a random popup like the one shown in the image above, know that it’s a scam. Do not, I repeat, do not call the number provided. Go to your trusted local computer repair shop instead to get your PC checked. Otherwise, you can lose thousands of dollars if you panic and make that call. According to customers that we have helped after such scams, here are the main points of how these scams work:

  • They saw the popup, believed it was Microsoft and panicked.
  • They called the number. The “tech support technician” told them not to hang up, not to turn off the computer, or call anyone because their phone was hacked too. In other words, they used more scare tactics to gain compliance from the user.
  •  The “technician” had the unsuspecting victim download software used to access another computer remotely and took over control of the victim’s computer.
  • The scammer would go through some technical charades to convince their victim that there was a serious threat to their personal or financial information. Therefore, they were “so lucky” to be getting the help they needed.
  • When it was time for the victim to pay, the scammer had them pay through a Bitcoin ATM machine or some other untraceable forms of payment like prepaid gift cards, etc.

The Financial Damage

Scareware scams cost people thousands of dollars in financial losses. Popups like the one you see above bypass your security software by getting the user to act. If you only do a virus scan, you may not find anything wrong. The attacker often uses legitimate software to gain access to the victim’s computer. So, if you were a victim of such a scam, you must have your local computer shop clean your computer to make sure it’s safe to use. Otherwise, your computer is not safe to use. If you want to know more about how to protect yourself from online scams check out my Computer Security for Home Users article on this website. Sadly, scareware attacks often victimize our senior citizens. So, if you find this information useful, help us spread the word to help them protect themselves online!