The Rise of Scamware

You might not think you’ve heard of scamware, but the truth is you’ve probably come across it without even knowing. Just as so many people have seen the potential for good in the growth of the internet, with increased learning and communication opportunities, there have also been a number of unscrupulous parties looking to use the internet to perpetrate criminal acts for personal gain.

The emails calling for personal information in order to claim your Nigerian or UK lottery winnings have by now become a joke, but remember when they first appeared and people were sending their personal, private information in the hopes of receiving money? Like everyone else, scammers adapt, and scamware is the new Nigerian lottery.

Snake oil salesman are nothing new, and scamware is nothing so much as a bottle of venom disguised as a cure-all. It’s software that purports to be useful and legitimate, when in fact it’s just malware – a means of collecting personal data and stealing money and identities.

It’s designed to make users think they need it in order to create the fear or anxiety that will cause people to buy into its hype and deliver the goods, so to speak. Unfortunately, such tactics are on the rise, and many people have been duped, to their great detriment.

How Does Scamware Work?

Some of the most popular scamware on the internet poses as antivirus software. Users receive a popup or email posing as a source that appears legitimate, like Microsoft, for example. It offers a free scan to look for viruses, which it naturally finds (whether there are viruses or not).

Then it urges users to purchase the paid version of the software. What do users get when they download the software? If they’re lucky, nothing – they only lose the money used to purchase the software.

Those that are not so lucky may have their credit card number or other personal information stolen, and worse, the software they download could scan their computer and steal further information, infect the computer with a virus, or even hold the computer hostage until further funds are sent.

This last insidious feature is becoming more popular. In fact, a purchase isn’t even required – sometimes all you have to do is click a link or open a legitimate-looking email for this malware to install.

Once it is in your system, the software freezes your computer and locks you out, revealing a pop-up that tells you to send money within a certain amount of time or your files will be corrupted or deleted. There are other types of scamware, as well. Some appear to be coupons or legitimately useful apps for mobile devices, but the one-click, fix-all scamware is easily the most popular grift.

How Can I Identify Scamware?

By its very nature, scamware is difficult to identify. Unlike other viruses and malware, it can’t necessarily be caught by a computer program, at least not until it’s too late. Although many antivirus/anti-malware software is designed to identify and warn you of threats (like suspicious websites or untrusted email), no software has yet been designed to differentiate between false and legitimate advertising.

The only real way to identify scamware is to be smart and wary. There are two good rules to follow. First, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Second, do your homework – check out the company before downloading their software.

How Can I Avoid Getting Caught in the Trap?

What you want to avoid is a knee-jerk reaction. You should always be suspicious of companies that approach you via pop-ups or email, even if they seem to be from a legitimate source like Microsoft of Mac. Do not click links or download anything.

If you’re actually worried about dire proclamations of viruses or you’re interested in the services offered (PC tune-ups, system care, etc.), exercise due diligence. Look for a company website and user reviews. If they don’t exist, it’s probably scamware.

Of course, even this isn’t entirely trustworthy. In the past, scammers have used SEO practices to put their websites at the top of Google search pages. Still, there are steps you can take.

If you’ve never heard of a software and the purveyor approaches you, simply look for well-known alternatives that you have heard of or ask around. In terms of antivirus software, plenty of people use Norton, McAfee, or AVG, just for example. Trust what you know and steer clear of solicitation.