Internet Popup Scams and How to Avoid Them

Scams of all sorts targeting senior citizens are on the rise, in large part because they tend to be more trusting and, more importantly, less aware of risks online. Recently, there has been an increase in “pop-up” scams. In these kinds of scams, cybercriminals use scary pop-up messages to trick you into giving your information to the scamsters, or into buying fake antivirus software. In this article we’ll describe different ways this scam appears, and how you or your loved one can avoid being taken in by them.

Types of Pop-up Scams

There are several varieties of the pop-up scam.  One is the “Tech Support” scam, where you see scary pop-up messages on your computer or device, telling you that your computer is infected with some virus and that you need to call a “tech support” phone number right away. If you call it, you will be talking to the criminals who will try to steal from you or steal your identity.

Another type is the “Scareware” scam, where a Pop-up ad appears on your screen warning you that your computer is infected with viruses. The ad says that you can eliminate them by buying antivirus software. If you fall for the scam and buy the fake software, the criminals will have your credit card information, and will also have installed malware on your computer. Scammers can use this malware to access your files, send out fake emails in your name, or track your online activity.

How to avoid falling for Pop-up scams

Any time you get a scary pop-up message, NEVER download the software suggested by the popup. You should run a full scan of your system using the antivirus or anti-malware software you already have on your computer. It will also confirm for you that whatever virus you were warned about isn’t actually on your computer (or gets removed by the software you have).

If you run into a scary pop-up message, remember also that they’re designed to make you panic, because that short-circuits your critical thinking. So, take a deep breath and remember these tips:


We’re happy to answer any questions you have about our firm and our processes. Here are answers to some of the questions we receive most frequently.

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First, close your browser. If the message goes away, it was just a website trying to get you to call them or download some other (likely very dangerous) software.

Second, don’t call the number you’re given by the scary message. If it asks you to call a company like Apple or Microsoft, it’s almost certainly a scam, since those companies are nearly impossible to reach even for their regular customers. Call a friend or relative if you are concerned about what you’re seeing.

Third, don’t click on a link in the message. For example, if the scary message says it’s from a bank, go to the bank website and try to find the fraud department phone number and call that. Links in these kinds of pop-ups will almost always install some kind of malware or spyware – software that tracks your or steals your information.

Fourth, confirm by a different medium. For example, if the message came up on your browser or in an email message, use your phone to call the people who supposedly sent it to you. But see above: don’t use the phone number given to you in the message.

Fifth, enable your browser’s pop-up blocker. This will cut down on a lot of the worst scary popups.


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Skepticism is an important skill when browsing the internet, ESPECIALLY if you click on a ‘news’ story that isn’t from a legitimate, recognized news service like Reuters, CNN, Fox News, etc. Scammers pay to place ads on websites that can look like legitimate news stories, so it’s also pretty common that as your preferred websites learn more about you and the kinds of links you click through, you’ll see more stories like the ones you typically read and some of those will start to include re-directs to scammers.

In any event, if you aren’t sure what to do when you see a message like this, call a friend or relative you trust. It’s much safer than calling the people who are trying to swindle you.

At Blankinship & Foster, we help our clients with far more than investment management.  We provide proactive, personalized advice on all aspects of their finances.  Please contact us to learn more about how we can help you.

Disclosure: The opinions expressed within this blog post are as of the date of publication and are provided for informational purposes only. Content will not be updated after publication and should not be considered current after the publication date. All opinions are subject to change without notice, and due to changes in the market or economic conditions may not necessarily come to pass. Nothing contained herein should be construed as a comprehensive statement of the matters discussed, considered investment, financial, legal, or tax advice, or a recommendation to buy or sell any securities, and no investment decision should be made based solely on any information provided herein. Links to third party content are included for convenience only, we do not endorse, sponsor, or recommend any of the third parties or their websites and do not guarantee the adequacy of information contained within their websites.

About Rick Brooks

Rick Brooks, CFA®, CFP® is a partner of Blankinship & Foster LLC and is the firm’s Chief Investment Officer. He is a lead advisor, counseling clients on all aspects of personal financial management. Rick serves on several boards. He is the Chairman of the Board of Girl Scouts San Diego, and also chairs the San Diego Foundation’s Professional Advisor Council. Rick and his family live in Mission Hills. Rick enjoys spending time with his family, theater, cooking, skiing, gaming and reading.

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