Scareware is a shady form of malware that causes fraudulent warning messages to pop up on your computer screen. These messages will tell you something is wrong, or something bad is about to happen, and that you must take a specific actions to make it stop. For example, scareware may tell you your computer is infected, and you must download certain software in order to remove the infection. Or it may say your credit rating has been jeopardized, and you need to pay for a service to restore it. The price tag for the solution is usually a small one, which makes the scam even more believable.
Shareware uses fear to manipulate you into following the deceiving messages and pay for the software or service that promises to clear the issue. In the best-case scenario, you’ve paid for a worthless service. In the worst case, however, you’ve downloaded more malicious software to your computer, or you’ve provided your credit card information to criminals. Scareware is so common, most people run into it at some point. If you do, don’t be scared.
Stay calm and follow these steps:
- Close the browser. The first thing to do when you see a suspicious alert on your computer is close the browser window without clicking any link on the popup. If the popup is preventing this, instead open your task manager (Ctrl + Alt + Delete on PC, and Command + Option + Escape on Mac) and shut down your browser from there. If this still doesn’t work, shut off your computer. When you start your computer again, don’t open your browser until you’ve completed the next two steps.
- Run a virus scan. Once you’ve closed your browser completely, run a virus scan on your computer using your installed security software.
- Make sure your operating system is up to date. Run any pending system updates, then reboot your computer afterward if it doesn’t reboot automatically.