Pop-up Scams 101

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Red Flags to Watch for and Best Practices to Keep You Safe

We’ve all been there. You’re browsing the web, minding your own business, when suddenly something pops up out of nowhere. Our first instinct is always to click on the ‘x’ to make it go away, and that usually works—until recently. Now, scammers and cyber criminals are getting more creative with these pop-ups to trick you into getting your click. 

So, how can you spot a pop-up scam? Here are some red flags to look for: 

The popup appears to be from an unknown or unrecognizable source. If you’re not familiar with the website or company that the popup is coming from or advertising for, it’s probably a scam. (Bonus tip: Like phishing emails, pop-up scams will more than likely contain grammar or spelling errors. This is something else to look out for.)

The offer in the popup seems too good to be true. This applies just like in other areas of life: if the offer seems unbelievable, you shouldn’t believe it. Be especially cautious of popups that offer free gifts, prizes or money.

The popup contains aggressive language or scare tactics. Legitimate companies won’t try to pressure or scare you into clicking on their ads. For example, if the popup is claiming that your device has been hacked and the only way to fix it is to click on their ad now, it’s almost definitely a scam. We can practically guarantee that Microsoft will never try and get in contact with you about your computer’s virus software through a popup on a random web page. 

Okay, so we are all now a little bit more familiar with how to look out for pop-up ad scams, but we want to quickly share some best practices that can help you avoid the scams if you don’t recognize them up front.

Ad-blocker browser extensions. These have become the new norm in web surfing. They’re free, available on practically every browser, and prevent pop-ups from appearing all together. Some sites may ask that you turn off the software to access their site (most newspapers and reputable publications that run off of ad money)

Make a habit of not clicking on strange things. This is just a good philosophy to live by, in general. Even if they look legitimate, pop-up ads often use fake or redirecting links to try and trick people into giving them your personal information or downloading malware to your devices.

If you’re ever unsure, Google it. Oftentimes, a quick search can prove an ad to be legit or not, there you can also find if others have had bad experiences with the company behind the ad. One minute of extra research can save you hours of agony in the future. 

Criminals get smarter and more creative by the day, so you’re not alone if you think you’ve been seeing more and more pop-up scams lately. Knowing how to spot a scam can help you avoid becoming a victim. If you think you may have already fallen for a pop-up scam, don’t panic. Start by changing any passwords that may have been compromised and then report the scam so that more people don’t fall victim too.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.