Definition of Malware and Virus Scams
Most people these days use computers of some sort to store their most precious personal information and transact their most vital transactions, even if just a smartphone.
This has given the ill-intended incredible motivation to break into people’s digital worlds and create all sorts of havoc. In an era when cybersecurity has become a buzzword, it’s crucial that everyone understand the basic tactics these criminals use to try to steal your data, your money and your identity and the simple yet effective ways you can protect yourself against them.
What is a Malware Scam?
Malware is a type of computer software that, rather than provide the user a service, is used to cause that user or his or her system harm.
As distinct from software you download on purpose, such as games or office or study tools, malware hides inside other types of software, web links, advertisements and other forms of online content and infects devices that unwittingly download it.
Specific Examples of Malware Scams
There are many different types of malware and ways that it can infect a computer, from spreading a computer virus to installing software that tracks and monitors user activity.
Here are some of the most common types of malware and virus scams:
Phishing scams involve attempts to steal valuable data, like financial information, by sending you deceptive messages in the guise of trusted sources, like your bank. These may be emails, pop-ups ads or instant messages.
In all cases, they ask you to verify data or sign into your secure account using the provided link, which invariably takes you to a site that mirrors the login page of the trusted site.
Ransomeware is a kind of virus that holds your computer and all the data it contains hostage.
It remains inaccessible to you until you pay the perpetrators the demanded ransom to receive a key to unlock your hard drive.
Spyware runs in the background of your system while you use it, watching your every action.
Anytime you log in to a secure site, the spyware records your username and password.
Tips for Protecting Your Information
Protecting your personal information and other precious data from malware and virus scams is first and foremost a matter of avoiding malware and virus infections altogether.
However, it’s also a matter of detecting it when it’s already installed and getting rid of it as quickly, safely and completely as you can.
Finally, it’s also a matter of reporting the invasion to help authorities and security experts to catch the perpetrators, protect other computer users and better secure digital systems for you and all users.
The following are some useful, practical tips for accomplishing each of these.
To lower your chances of unwittingly downloading and installing malware, take these precautions:
- Take regular data backups to protect yourself from crashes and data hijacking.
- Always scan external devices like USB drives for security before using them.
- Never click a banner ad or pop-up regarding the performance of your computer.
- Rather than clicking a link in an email, open your secure browser of choice and type in the URL directly.
- Only use software obtained directly from the source developer, and always decline to install add-on software bundles.
- Whenever you install new software, always read every screen of the installation process, including the fine print, before continuing to the next step.
- If your internet browser gives you a security warning, heed that warning and take the recommended actions.
- Avoid changing your web browser’s security settings from the default settings, and if you already have, click the button to restore your browser’s security settings to their defaults.
- Install security software, along with a firewall, and keep them both updated.
- Educate all your friends and family about the online risks and precautions described above, so they don’t expose you to any unnecessary risk either.
Red Flags to Look Out For
Red flags to watch out for that your computer may already be infected with malware include:
- Sending emails on your behalf that you never wrote
- Displaying pages you never intended to visit
- Showing an onslaught of popup ads
- Serving ads that are either inappropriate or interfere with the content on the page
- Slowing down, crashing or displaying error messages repeatedly
- Failing to shut down or restart
- Preventing you from deleting software
- Inserting ads where they normally don’t appear, like government sites
Other signs of potential malware include:
- Repeated or sudden changes in your internet homepage
- Sudden changes in your web browser, such as tabs opening on their own or a switch to another default search engine
- New icons or toolbars on your desktop or in your web browser
- A battery that drains faster than it should
To ensure you catch any malware that gets installed as soon as possible, monitor your computer regularly for signs like these.
Getting Rid of Malware
If you do detect malware on your computer, or suspect the same, take the following actions straightaway:
- Cease all online banking, shopping and other online activities involving your personal information, including usernames and passwords.
- Employ your browser’s own malware deletion tools, if applicable, or reset your browser to its default settings.
- Update whatever security software you use and then use it to run a scan of your computer for malware, viruses and spyware. Prepare to delete items it identifies and restart your computer, if necessary.
- Take advantage of whatever tech support is available to assist you, such as through a computer warranty or an affiliation with a particular retail store.
To report an attempt to infect your computer with malware, whether a successful one or not, contact the Federal Trade Commission to file an official complaint. Visit ftc.gov/complaint.
121 Federal Credit Union cares about more than just your money. We care about your safety and security, and that of those you love. If you want to learn about other scams and ways to protect yourself, visit our security center resource.