A pop-up window claiming to have scanned your computer and found evidence of viruses would cause anyone alarm.
However, if it comes from a company or program other than your own security software, or if it appears in a different format than you're used to, then tread carefully, as it's likely to be a scam.
But there are ways of spotting such scams, and step you can take to prevent you becoming a victim.
How to spot a fake virus alert
Below is a real example of a fake virus pop-up. It looks convincing at first, but there are some warning flags to watch out for:
- If the pop-up window warns you of a virus and asks for payment in order to fix it, you’re dealing with a scam. Real security software never charges on a case-by-case basis as it deals with threats.
- The 'Get full time protection' button is presented as a solution to your virus problem. However, by clicking on this, you could potentially download malware to your PC.
- 380 threats found? That's a very high number, and deliberately so. It's designed to catch your attention and make you panic into reacting and clicking on the message.
- The list of scanned files looks reasonably authentic, but the list of threats found is nothing like what a genuine security suite would display. Threats aren't listed as 'Virus', 'Worm', 'Trojan'. They're detected with specific names based on databases kept up-to-date by the security software
- Sometimes, the warning messages will look amateurish and have flashing colours you wouldn’t normally see on your machine. But in the worst cases, they can look convincingly similar to actual Windows warning messages.
What you should do if you see a fake virus alert
- Getting around these pop-up messages isn’t always a simple matter. Sometimes, even clicking the X that would normally close a window can download malware to your PC. Instead, close your entire web browser and reopen to continue browsing.
- If you’re concerned that you may actually have a virus on your computer, try running a manual scan of your entire machine with your own security software. If there are any genuine threats, this ought to spot them and deal with them appropriately.
- Even if the pop-up looks authentic, never reach for your credit card. No real security software will charge you to deal with an individual threat.