Scam artists try to trick people into clicking on links that will download malware and spyware to their computers.
Reduce your Risk
Keep your security software updated. At a minimum, your computer should have anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and a firewall. Set your security software, Internet browser, and operating system (like Windows or Mac OS) to update automatically.
Instead of clicking on a link in an email, type the URL of the site you want directly into your browser. Criminals send emails that appear to be from companies you know and trust. The links may look legitimate, but clicking on them could download malware or send you to a spoof site designed to steal your personal information.
Don’t open attachments in emails unless you know who sent it and what it is. Opening attachments — even in emails that seem to be from friends or family — can install malware on your computer.
Download and install software only from websites you know and trust. Downloading free games, file-sharing programs, and customized toolbars may sound appealing, but free software can come with malware.
Minimize "drive-by" downloads. Make sure your browser security setting is high enough to detect unauthorized downloads. For Internet Explorer, for example, use the "medium" setting at a minimum.
Use a pop-up blocker and don't click on any links within pop-ups. If you do, you may install malware on your computer. Close pop-up windows by clicking on the "X" in the title bar.
Resist buying software in response to unexpected pop-up messages or emails, especially ads that claim to have scanned your computer and detected malware. That's a tactic scammers use to spread malware.
Talk about safe computing. Tell your kids that some online actions can put the computer at risk: clicking on pop-ups, downloading "free" games or programs, opening chain emails, or posting personal information.
Back up your data regularly. Whether it's text files or photos that are important to you, back up any data that you'd want to keep in case your computer crashes.
Monitor your computer for unusual behavior. Signs that your computer may be infected with malware:
- Slows down, crashes, or displays repeated error messages
- Won't shut down or restart
- Serves up a barrage of pop-ups
- Displays web pages you didn't intend to visit, or sends emails you didn't write
- Displays new and unexpected toolbars, icons or shortcuts
- Suddenly or repeatedly changes in your computer's internet home page
- Loses its charge quicker than normal (for laptops)
Getting Rid of Malware
If you suspect there is malware on your computer, take these steps:
- Stop shopping, banking, and doing other online activities that involve user names, passwords, or other sensitive information.
- Update your security software, and then run it to scan your computer for viruses and spyware.
- If your computer is covered by a warranty that offers free tech support, contact the manufacturer. Before you call, write down the model and serial number of your computer, the name of any software you've installed, and a short description of the problem.
- Many companies – including some affiliated with retail stores – offer tech support on the phone, online, at their store, and in your home.