Infected Computer or Pop-up Scam?

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Be careful if you get a threatening pop-up, it is likely a scam.

If you spend any time on the internet, you have likely encountered a pop-up scam of some variety.  Not only are these annoying, but they can also be a very dangerous cyber-attack.  The tactics range from instructions to call a number provided for support to requesting payment to reinstate your anti-virus protection.  Whatever the approach, the hacker’s objective is almost always to extort money from you.

Common Types of Pop-up Scams

Perhaps you have not encountered one of these scams yet.  Here are a few examples of pop-up scams that you may experience.

  • Your computer is infected.
  • Your anti-virus has expired.
  • Your software license has expired.
  • Your files are encrypted.

Using familiar branding like popular anti-virus brands is a common tactic in pop-up scams.

Scam Methods Used

The scams will frequently use fear and urgency to attempt to get the user to act without thinking.  It is a common social engineering tactic designed to heighten a person’s emotions in hopes of clouding their decision-making.

Another common ploy is the use of recognizable branding with the intent of creating trust with the user.  For instance, crooks create pop-ups that use logos and other branding of popular anti-virus software.  McAfee and Norton are common anti-virus programs, particularly with home-based computers.  If you get a pop-up that appears to be from the same anti-virus program that you have installed on your computer, you are much less likely to be suspicious of it.

How to Identify a Scam Pop-up

Even the most convincing pop-up scams have some clues to help identify them as trouble.  Before taking any action on a pop-up, look for these traits.

  • Is the message in the pop-up informative or does it appear threatening?
    • Hackers attempt to scare people into acting and often use threatening words or phrases like “Warning” or “Your Protection Has Expired” or “Your License Has Been Cancelled”
  • Are there links, attachments, or phone numbers in the pop-up?
    • These are all methods used to get a victim to take action that leads to harm.  Be cautious if pop-ups contain any of these.
  • Stop and think about the message.  Does it make sense?
    • Look for brands and consider if you even use those products or not.
    • If you notice poor image quality or poorly written language the message is likely a scam.

For more tips on how to recognize a pop-up scam, check out this article on the McAfee website –

Pop-up scam loaded with warning signs. Isn’t it nice that they are having a sale?

Where did this pop-up come from?

Most of these scam pop-ups will occur when you are on the internet.  They can be programmed into a website to launch after a designated amount of time after you land on a page.  This can make them feel like they are not related to your activity. 

For instance, you are on a news website, and several seconds after reaching a page, a pop-up stating that your PC is infected appears.  That makes it feel random enough that you may fall for the scam.  Remember to stay calm and evaluate the message before taking any action.

A pop-up may also be installed on your computer simply by browsing to a website.  This can be even convincing since the pop-up can be programmed to appear later.  If you are not browsing and have a pop-up show up seemingly out of nowhere, use the same precaution.

Pop-up scams typically attempt to extort money for license renewals or support services. Don’t give out your payment information!

How Do I Get Rid of Pop-ups?

I once worked on a friend’s computer that would bombard you with threatening pop-ups every time you logged into Windows.  If you run into a similar situation or just keep having pop-up scams appearing, a good first step is to clear the browsing data in your web browser.  Here is a link to instructions for doing that in the Chrome browser – If you use other browsers, just do a search on how to perform this operation on your browser of choice.

Once you have cleared the browser data, you should check the extensions that you have installed in your browser.  Go to the settings in your browser and look for extensions.  Many of these may be legitimate so be careful what ones you remove.  It could break how certain applications work in your browser.  However, if you see any that are questionable, remove them.

Finally, run a virus scan on your computer to see if any malware exists.  These can also be the source of pop-up scans.

Remember to think things over before acting.

Cybercriminals have become very crafty in trying to scam people out of money, personal information, payment card information, etc.  If you experience an attack from a pop-up, remember to stay calm and be very suspicious.  Look for the warning signs and ask yourself if this makes sense or if it just feels like someone if trying to frighten you into acting.

Most pop-up scams are harmless until you do something like click a link, open an attachment, or call a phone number.  If you’re having trouble with one, don’t be afraid to ask an IT support professional for help.

For more articles on cyber security and other IT related topics, check out our blog page –

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