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Scareware Victims Fall Foul of Most Costly Online Scam

McAfee : 11 March, 2010  (Technical Article)
McAfee exposes scareware, an internet threat that is set to cause the most financial and computer damage this year is being countered with Consumer Threat Alert, designed by McAfee to stay ahead of the latest and evolving threats
McAfee has warned consumers that "scareware," or fake antivirus software, may be the most costly online scam in 2010, causing significant monetary loss and damage to users' computers. Scareware is the first scam outlined in McAfee's new Consumer Threat Alert program that warns consumers about the latest and most dangerous online threats with inside intelligence from McAfee Labs.

"Even the savviest of computer users fall victim to online threats because cybercriminals have become so sophisticated," said Jeff Green, senior vice president of McAfee Labs. "The Consumer Threat Alerts are a warning sound to keep consumers from falling victim to online dangers. We're on the front lines watching and protecting against threats, and we pass that knowledge onto consumers."

Scareware is one of the most prevalent, dangerous and sophisticated online scams, victimizing an estimated one million people around the world every day. McAfee Labs reports that cybercriminals make profits upwards of $300 million worldwide from scamming consumers with scareware.

Fake antivirus software pops onto a users' screen and alerts the user that his or her computer may be vulnerable. To disguise the scam, cybercriminals create legitimate looking logos of fake security companies.

The pop-up prompts the user to scan the computer for vulnerabilities, which he or she does not realize is fake, or even purchase "security software" which is actually malware in disguise. Cybercriminals get unsuspecting victims to input their credit card information, granting criminals' access to the user's computer and bank details. Criminals have targeted every region of the world with fake antivirus software.

"It's an incredibly lucrative business for cybercriminals," said Francois Paget from McAfee Labs, a security research expert who has studied fake antivirus companies around the globe. "In fact, one company known as 'Innovative Marketing' made an estimated $180 million through these scams in one year, and more than four million consumers purchased their fake security software thinking it was real."

McAfee reports a 660% rise in scareware over the past two years, and a 400% increase in reported incidents in the last 12 months.

"It strikes fear - I saw a pop-up telling me that I had viruses on my computer and all I could think about was everything I had to lose," said Stevie Wilson, a victim of scareware who lives in Los Angeles and shares her story in this video. "It looked just like a legitimate security program, so I handed over my credit card information to make sure I was protected. But, countless dollars and lost time later, I realized that I'd handed my credit card directly to criminals."

The McAfee Consumer Threat Alerts program helps consumers stay ahead of evolving and sophisticated threats. Subscribers can expect to receive periodic e-mail alerts about how to recognize the latest online dangers and tips on how to stay safe. The threat information is presented in easy to understand language with examples, and includes tips on how to avoid threats as well as information for users who suspect they might have become a victim.

In addition to the e-mail notification, all updates will be posted on the Consumer Threat Alerts blog and consumers can also follow McAfee on Twitter or visit the Facebook page for updates, videos and tips.

"We're giving consumers the 'street smarts' they need to live their online lives safely," said Green. "With education and the right technology, we can all play a part in the fight against cybercrime."
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