When it comes to antivirus protection, you really need to stick with known and tested products. If you get an offer for a free antivirus scan and you don’t recognize the product, it may well be a scam. Some rogue security utilities are actually Trojans—they pretend to be useful, but secretly steal your data or otherwise make trouble. Others ape real security software and try to scare you into paying money to clean up problems that don’t really exist. For that reason, they’re often called scareware.

Don’t Buy It!

This is a growing problem, and it’s your fault. If absolutely nobody installed these programs, the bad guys wouldn’t be able to keep going. They’d find some other scam. As it is, plenty of people shell out $29.99 to register these frauds. It’s not a Madoff-level scam, but some of them are doing so well they even offer tech support. No kidding! The first they’re likely to tell you is “First, remove any existing security software…”

These rogue programs may copy user interface elements from real malware protection programs; the multi-color Windows security shield is especially popular. They often use names that sound like the real programs that you’ve heard of. Some years ago, poor grammar and spelling often blew their cover, but those currently active are much more refined.

How can you avoid getting scammed? If a security program that you never installed pops up with a dire warning, that’s a clue that you’ve been scammed. If it’s really, really hard to close the program or get out of the registration process, there’s another clue. The biggest giveaway is often their incredibly fast virus…