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Is the internet just full of scams?

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All these PC online technicians say “your computer is infected; you need to pay at least $100 to have us fix it like new.” They told me that even if I go to factory settings it won’t help. Now, I’ve been running McAfee security and I do full scans and I have no virus. Is the internet just packed with tricksters?

The very direct answer to your question is yes.

Yes, there are a lot of scams and misleading advertisements out there.

That’s why there’s one skill I believe strongly that everyone needs to develop.

Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!

Skepticism as a way of online life

You need to be skeptical. You need to question everything.

The most blatant are the tools and utilities that promise a free computer scan. Now, that’s not a lie. The scan is absolutely free; the advertisement or where ever you are getting this information is quite accurate. The scan is free. However, what happens next falls into two buckets:

  • The legitimate: the scan accurately reports real things that it does find and then offers to fix them for you for a price.
  • The fake: the scan spends some amount of time doing something and then well… it lies. It tells you about all sorts of things you don’t have, and offers to fix them for you for a price.

Even the legitimate tools can fall into some questionable buckets. For example, in the interest of selling their fix-it services, scans that aren’t actually lying will sometimes embellish the truth. They’ll make things seem worse – often much worse – than they really are.

For example, a scan might report hundreds of so-called tracking cookies, and do so in a way that makes them sound much worse than they are. Scanning software sometimes makes it seem like cookies are a horrible security risk when:

  1. that’s a matter of opinion, not fact
  2. in my opinion, they are not

I think it’s wrong to present that in such a scary and overblown manner only to try and encourage you (to use a nice term) to purchase their product.

What’s real?

So how do you know what’s real? How do you know you’re not getting ripped off?

Well, in many cases, you simply can’t.

In particular, when you have a properly operating machine, and you’re faced with some kind of message that says your machine is horribly infected and we can fix it for a price be very, very skeptical.

FraudTake a breath.

If your computer is working well, that’s evidence that the message might just be a tad misleading. Even if your machine is having troubles, there’s a plethora of free tools and advice sites that can often help direct you to a solution. Sometimes that solution might even be a paid product. There are good paid products out there. It’s fantastic if you arrive at that conclusion based on the opinions of resources that you know and trust.

Sometimes the solution is simply education. Maybe those cookies aren’t so horrible after all, and maybe you can just ignore that frightening warning. And even if you decide you want to act on something like cookies, a good resource will point you to free tools – like CCleaner for getting rid of cookies – that will help manage the issue. Be it cookies or system issues or malware, there are plenty of good solutions out there.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of not-so-good solutions out there as well. And unfortunately, those not-so-good solutions, from scams to scareware, tarnish the reputation of every legitimate commercial solution that might be out there.

6 comments on “Is the internet just full of scams?”

  1. One thing I would add to that is if you get a pop-up saying something to the effect that “Your computer may be at risk” or “We’ve found (a number in the thousands) of errors on your computer” just click on the x in the upper right hand corner of the pop-up to close it. You can safely assume these are scams. Also if a pop-up has a “close” or “not interested button” or something like that inside the pop-up window, it’s best not to click on it as often that button still will send you to the unwanted web page. The x in the upper right is a browser control and should close the pop-up.

    Reply
    • There’s an argument that for sufficiently sophisticated malware attempts the “x” is not enough. You should actually use task manager to kill your browser to be 100% certain. The issue is that malware can hook the close event. Not always, I’m not even sure it’s that common, but it is possible.

      Reply
  2. Very good article. I belong to a couple of tech help sites and we see MANY examples of machines ruined by these “offers”. Sometimes it IS hard to get away from those ads, and your suggestion about Task Manager is spot on. Amazing how many people forget about T.M.. With the many choices (many free) available to scan your system I question the need to EVER use an online scanner period. The sole exception , and I’m leery about even it, is if you’re already infected and can’t get your A/V and/or Malware programs to run. Then, use a reputable scanner, Eset comes to mind.

    Reply
  3. Can the tools and utilities that promise a “free” scan, steal any personal information from your computer whilst they are scanning the contents of your registry and whatever else they “scan”?

    Reply
    • Unfortunately, yes. They can install any kind of malware on your system which can do virtually any kind of damage to your machine including taking it over completely.

      Reply
  4. You are absolutely correct Leo, the internet is now fall of scammers, even the ones that use to be legit. Sears card and Norton got together and billed me for a product that I never ordered. The bill was for $97.98. I checked Norton’s products online and none of Norton’s products matched that price. Sears changed the last four numbers of my credit card even though I never requested it. The supposed product has two different AP#s on my Sears bill. I requested a printout of my purchase and detailed description of item, as of today they have not sent me my request.
    Things that used to come free of charge is now priced. All items that use to come with a repair disk, is priced. All Microsoft items has to be bought from them, and no backup or repair disk. It’s getting to be that the internet is now a monopoly and have us by the throat. It is now an instrument for thieves and scammers.

    Reply

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