5 Signs of a Fake Virus Warning

It is enough to give even the most experienced computer user a start. You are surfing along happily, or checking your email, when suddenly a pop-up appears on your computer screen. That pop-up announces that your computer has been infected with spyware, a virus or a ransomware attack, and that you need to take immediate steps to prevent the loss of your data.

So should you start panicking? Do you need to call the toll-free number on your screen and let the friendly tech on the other end of the line into your computer? Or have you fallen prey to a fake virus warning, a ruse designed to separate you from your money and compromise the very personal data it promised to protect?

These fake virus warnings are everywhere, and they have fooled even sophisticated computer users. So before you start reaching for the phone, take a step back and watch out for these five warning signs of a fake alert.

  1. Vague promises – If the warning message promises to “protect your privacy”, “safeguard your data” and other vague reassurances, you are probably looking at a fake pop-up.
  2. Products for sale – Watch for pop-ups that look like warning messages but are really thinly disguised sales pitches for expensive, and often unnecessary, security products.
  3. Your latest virus scan showed nothing – If your antivirus products are up to date and your scans have all been clean, run a new scan to be sure, then close the pop-up window.
  4. A lack of company information – If you suspect the virus warning is real, check out the company making the claim. If you find no information at all, or nothing but negative feedback, you are probably looking at a scam.
  5. Misspellings and grammar errors. This is less of an issue than it used to be, since the scammers have gotten better at their language skills. Even so, you should check the warning message carefully, and ignore it if you see obvious problems with word usage, spelling or grammar.


So what should you do if you suspect the virus warning is a scam? You can never be too sure, so you still need to take some proactive steps to protect yourself and your identity. Here is what you need to do when you get any type of virus warning, even a suspected fake one.

  • Close your browser. Closing out of your internet browser should be your first step, so shut it down and get a clean start.
  • Clear your browser cache. Once you restart your browser, clear the cache just to be on the safe side.
  • Run a system scan. Now is the time to fire up your favorite security software and run a full virus scan. Be sure to do a complete scan – it will take longer, but it will give you extra peace of mind.
  • Be careful where you surf – You can never be too careful, and you do not want the next virus warning to be a real one. Practice safe surfing habits and stay away from risky websites.
  • Turn on your pop-up blockers – Many fake virus warnings come in pop-up form, and turning on the pop-up blockers in your internet browsers can stop them in their tracks.

Any virus warning is cause for concern, but you should not panic the next time you see one. Before you take action, you need to make sure the warning is legitimate – falling for one of these scams could end up doing more harm than good.

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