Understanding and Avoiding Pop-Up Scams

Staying safe online means knowing who’s out to get you and how to avoid them.

Imagine opening your Chrome browser to a screen that looks like this:

If you’re a Google Chrome user, there’s a chance that you’ll encounter this error. It could happen when you start up your browser or pop up while you’re using a website. It looks scary, and you might be inclined to dial the provide number to correct the issue as soon as possible. However, if you ever encounter a screen like this (or something similar), take a moment before reaching for the phone and running headfirst into a potentially damaging scam.

What makes this scam easy to spot?

Can you spot the fishy elements on this screen? This error message and others like it can be easily identified in two quick steps:

  • Check the spelling & grammar

Poor English can be a dead giveaway that the screen you’re looking at is less than legitimate. A message delivered through Chrome on behalf of global tech giant Google is almost certain to feature not only correct spelling but impeccable grammar and specific industry parlance. Check out the “critical error” message again:

“There was a dangerous try”
“”We recommend you to freeze your accounts until some measures will be taken”
“Do not waste your time and consult one of our service centers”
(this is my favorite, and it’s good advice to take – it WOULD be a waste of time to call their “service center”).

  • Look up the phone number

If your cursory spell check didn’t raise any obvious alarms, you can do a search for the phone number. In the case of this scam, a quick Google search brings up plenty of results indicating that the number is associated with something fishy. Scammer.info or scam-detector.com are great places to search for a phone number and see what others have experienced.

Of course, this Chrome scam is one example among many, and though this instance is benign (provided you don’t call the number and provide payment), there’s a long and unfortunate history of scammers successfully extorting money from unfortunate users. As long as some people keep falling for these scams, attackers will keep evolving their tactics to exploit both technical and human vulnerabilities.

Here are a few things to keep in mind if you encounter similar malicious messages or attacks:

  • Avoid opening attachments or clicking on links in emails or social media messages you’ve received from strangers – when in doubt, hit delete and move on.
  • ANY request for your details or money should be treated as highly suspicious.
  • Look out for unusual payment requests – requests for preloaded debit cards, gift cards, iTunes cards, or virtual currency are big red flags.

What should you do if you’ve been scammed?

Whether you fell for an impeccably constructed pop-up scam or accidentally opened an email you know wasn’t on the up-and-up, you should:

  • Change passwords to your computer, financial institutions, and any password-protected websites that you visit.
  • Use your current anti-virus protection to run a full system scam, or call your IT professional for help initiating one and resolving any issues.
  • File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission

Looking for more resources to keep you safe online? Check out the National Cyber Security Alliance’s resources at staysafeonline.org – you can learn more about the basics, different forms of cybercrime, how to secure your accounts, and how to manage your privacy.