As you probably already know, scams and hoaxes are everywhere these days, and some of them are quite believable and compelling.
It’s very easy to fall for some of these scams because they mimic actions that are taken by legitimate programs and online services.
One of the most dangerous scams that’s making the rounds right now is the insidious “Your computer has a virus!” scam. There are several variations of this scam, but they typically work something like this…
You receive a pop-up notification or an email telling you that a virus has been found on your computer and you need to download an antivirus program to scan your hard drive and get rid of it.
The notice will include a download link for what they claim is a legitimate antivirus program such as McAfee or AVG, but the link is actually to a web page that will download a real virus to your PC if you click the link.
In other words, the notification telling you that your PC has a virus is itself the actual malware, and clicking the download link in the notification will install a real virus onto your system.
There are variations in the delivery method as well. Again, some of these fake virus notifications will displayed in a pop-up window or in your web browser when you’re viewing a malicious website, but they are also being delivered via email as well.
These fake virus notifications aren’t just targeting laptop and desktop computers either because I’ve received several reports of them being displayed on smart phones and tablets as well.
Luckily, these fake malware notifications are pretty easy to spot and avoid by keeping the following in mind:
1 – You can safely assume that any virus notification that wasn’t generated by the actual antivirus program that’s running on your computer is a fake.
For example, if you have Avast Antivirus installed on your PC and you receive a notice telling you that AVG, TrendMicro, McAfee or some other antivirus program has detected a virus on your computer, the notification is fraudulent. And there will be no exceptions.
No antivirus program can detect a virus on your computer unless it is already installed and running a scan. Therefore, if you’re told that you need to download a program to remove a virus you’ll know right off the bat that the notification itself is fraudulent.
2 – If you receive a notification that claims to have been generated by the antivirus program that’s already on your computer, take a good, hard look at the notification and make sure it looks and acts like the notifications that you’ve been receiving from the antivirus app in the past.
For example, if your computer is running AVG Antivirus and you receive a virus alert via email that appears to be from AVG, you should assume that the email is fraudulent.
And the reason is simple: Antivirus apps don’t send virus alerts via email. They display them in a box that pops up on the screen in the vicinity of the notifications area (the bottom-right corner of the screen).
When you receive any form of virus notification you should do all of the following:
1 – Avoid clicking any download links whatsoever. You should already have an antivirus program running on your computer which means you shouldn’t need to download one in order to remove a virus mentioned in an alert.
2 – Close your web browser and all other open programs and then restart your PC. If you’re unable to close all the programs simply press and hold the computer’s Power button until it shuts down, then start it back up.
3 – Launch your real antivirus app and run a thorough scan. If one or more viruses actually exist on your computer the antivirus app you’re already running will likely find it when you run the scan.
4 – If your antivirus scan fails to detect any viruses you should always ask for a second opinion.
5 – Scan for other non-viral forms of malware with the free version of Malwarebytes. (After all, something caused that fake virus notification to pop up in the first place!)
Bottom line: You should only believe virus notifications that were generated by your (already) installed antivirus app. You can safely assume that all others are fake.
What’s more, even virus notifications that appear to be legitimate should be verified by running a thorough manual scan with your installed antivirus program.
And whatever you do, DO NOT click ANY download link in ANY virus notification pop-up box, email or web page.