A fake virus warning is a form of scareware that uses social engineering tricks to play on your emotions and cause panic. If you believe your device is infected with a computer virus, you might act without thinking and accidentally download harmful software.
Fake virus warnings commonly appear on your screen as pop-ups warning you about some urgent malware threat and encouraging you to act immediately and download their product. Fake virus warnings can also appear as fake spyware warnings or fake system notifications.
Signs of fake viruses
Fake virus alerts can be convincing, but there are some dead giveaways. Understanding these tell-tale signs can help you avoid engaging with the phony pop-up warnings and clicking on the dangerous links. In general, trust your instincts — if something looks off, it probably is.
Here are signs of a fake virus:
Fake-sounding products: Fake virus warnings usually aren’t sophisticated. They often hawk products that are obviously fake. Familiarizing yourself with the best antivirus software will make it easy to identify the fakes.
High-frequency alerts: A sudden blast of virus warnings is alarming. But this is a common adware ploy. The aim is to make you nervous enough to download their fake product.
Bad grammar: A real company takes time to polish their messaging and communications. Scams for fake virus software will often be riddled with grammatical errors.
Many viruses detected: Fake virus pop-ups are not subtle. If you’re getting alerts that your computer has a number of malware infections, it’s likely a trick to inspire panic.
Instant requests for money: A fake virus pop-up may ask for money right away. And while many real antivirus solutions are free, those that can cost money won’t charge you to eradicate individual threats.
Vague wording: Vague promises or product descriptions are suspect. A reputable antivirus solution will use clear language to describe its product and features.
Slow devices: Sometimes a fake virus alert will launch a new window behind your browser window. If your device suddenly slows down or you hear your computer fans whirring loudly, make sure no new windows have popped up.
Legitimate antivirus products can’t be installed: Some of the nastier fake viruses will prevent you from installing legitimate antivirus products.
Even if they don’t come in the form of fake virus alerts, pop-ups are annoying. But if you block them all, you may not see certain features of websites or may miss notifications. Manage your pop-ups and learn how to allow and block pop-ups on Chrome, Safari, Firefox, and Edge or IE.
An example of a fake virus alert on a mobile device.
Examples of fake virus alerts
A fake virus warning can take on many forms. Familiarizing yourself with the following examples of fake virus warnings can help you spot the scams before they do damage.
Here are common examples of fake virus alerts:
Malvertising happens when legitimate advertising networks are infected with malicious ads that can then show up on websites you otherwise trust. These ads often claim your device is infected with a virus, and then try to sell solutions that don’t work. If you see random notifications about malware infections, ignore them.
Fake versions of real ads
Counterfeits ads from legitimate companies can be very deceptive. And fake virus alerts can convincingly mimic actual notifications. But there are obvious signs you’re dealing with a fake. Look out for exaggerated, fear-mongering language or deals too good to be true.
A famous example is the Microsoft pornographic virus alerts. This fake Microsoft pop-up appears to lock your device due to “browsing unsafe pornographic websites.” The pop-up will include a phone number leading to a tech support scam that tries to sell you fake antivirus software to unlock your computer.
System tray notifications
System tray notifications are rarer than other fake virus warnings. They appear in your system tray as notifications informing you of an infection that requires immediate action. Fake system tray notifications are especially dangerous because of how convincing they appear. Before you interact with any notification, make sure it’s authentic.
Like other forms of fake virus alerts, you can check if these notifications are real by examining the language of the warning. These scams always use emotional language to scare you and trick you into making rash decisions. There’s also usually something wrong visually — mismatching fonts or formatting issues.
A fake virus alert that uses visual scare tactics.
What to do if you see a fake virus warning pop-up
If you think you’ve spotted a fake virus warning, here’s how to deal with it:
Make sure the fake virus alert really is fake: There are plenty of fakes out there, but don’t forget that real infections do happen. If you think your computer or phone has an actual malware infection, use a trustworthy malware and virus removal tool.
Don’t click on the pop-up: Scareware plays on your emotions to make you act quickly and install something harmful. Don’t fall for the apparently urgent warnings, and don’t click on the pop-up. Also, look out for the “X” buttons. Phony virus pop-ups may use fake close buttons that can install actual malware on your device if you click.
Search the product name: When in doubt, look up the name you see in the warning. If you can’t find it online, or if the alleged company has terrible reviews, it’s almost certainly a fake.
Close your browser: To get rid of the ad, close your browser — don’t click the “X” on a fake virus pop-up. To close your browser, open the Task Manager (use the keyboard shortcut: Ctrl + Shift + Esc) or right-click the browser in the task bar and select Close all windows.
Run an antivirus scan: Fake virus pop-ups can result in real malware threats. Run a scan with a legitimate antivirus program to check for any malware.
If you think your device is infected, check out our guides to removing a computer virus or getting rid of a virus on your phone. And learn more about the difference between viruses and malware or the tricks of today’s most famous hackers.
Stay protected with AVG AntiVirus FREE
Even if it’s a fake virus alert now, it could be a real malware infection next time. Protect all your devices proactively with a dedicated antivirus tool. AVG AntiVirus FREE provides real-time threat detection against scareware, dangerous websites, and vulnerable online networks.
Our award-winning software offers six-layers of protection against the wide array of today’s malware threats. It’s also equipped with an email shield to make sure you steer clear of dangerous email attachments and phishing links. Install AVG today and never worry about phony virus warnings again.