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How to Tell if a Warning Dialog is Real or a Scam

Discussion in 'Tech Tutorials and News' started by Valerie Johnston, Sep 27, 2013.

  1. Valerie Johnston

    Valerie Johnston Techie7 New Member Techie7 Editor

    You may have had an experience similar to this example. You’re surfing on the Internet and suddenly a warning dialog pops up indicating that you have some sort of a virus on your computer and that you should click a link or button to remedy the issue. Unfortunately, this may be a scam.

    Fake warning dialogs are among the most effective ways that bad people get unwitting computer users to install malicious software on their computers. Ars Technica ran an article with a rather snarky title – “Fake Pop up Study Sadly Confirms Most Users Are Idiots” – that detailed the results of a study done at North Carolina State University. The study showed that most users presented with a fake popup would actually take an action that would put other users at risk, put themselves at risk or that would fail to appropriately deal with a fake dialog box that popped up.

    If you’ve fallen for this or have come close to falling for it, you’re not an idiot. The fake dialog boxes are designed specifically to fool you. The dialogue boxes are sometimes very convincing and, if you don’t know your machine very well, they can cause you to reflexively take an action that will end up with malicious software on your computer. Here are some tips to help you identify a fake dialog box.

    1: Know Your Security Software

    Go to your Control Panel, click on System and Security and then click on Action Center. Click on the tab labeled Security and you’ll see a screen similar to the screen below.


    On the screen, you can see that AVG antivirus software is installed on this computer. Any warnings that this computer user would get – usually while on the Internet – warning that there is a virus on the computer that do not come from AVG are obviously fake. If you see a dialog box pop up and it warns you that a program you don’t have on your computer has detected a virus, it is most certainly a fake.

    If you don’t have antivirus software installed on your computer, your Action Center will warn you about the issue and prompt you to install something. You can install a paid, commercial program such as Norton or McAfee or you can install a free program such as AVG, whatever you prefer.

    You Never Scanned or Downloaded Anything

    Most of the time, legitimate antivirus software will pop up and give you a warning right after you have downloaded something or after you have made a scan. When you download anything on your computer, most antivirus software will conduct a real-time scan of it to make certain that it’s okay. If there is an issue, it will pop up, tell you what virus is detected and ask you what you want to do about it. You will usually have an option to quarantine or delete the file.

    If you haven’t scanned anything and you haven’t downloaded anything, it’s highly unlikely that your antivirus software suddenly decided to find something on your computer. It’s far more likely that what you are looking at is an Internet generated pop up window that’s trying to get you to download something to your computer that is a virus in and of itself.

    Fix Problems with Your Registry!

    Another common scam with these pop-ups is to have one come up that tells the user that there are problems with their registry or their memory – or just about anything else – and they can fix it by clicking on a link. You can’t fix it by clicking on a link. Just ignore these. They are usually scams, unless you have installed some of this software on your computer, in which case you are probably infected with a virus.

    Do regular scans with your antivirus software and know the name of your antivirus software, as well as the rest of your security software. If you know this much, it will be far less likely that you will ever fall for any of these silly scams.

    If you do, however, remember that even medical students tested in university settings have fallen for these scams and that, if you have too, it doesn’t mean you’re an idiot. It means that you just fell victim to somebody who probably makes quite a bit of money making victims out of people, but you can avoid doing so in the future.