Security firms are seeing a rise in Scareware attacks.
According to Eric Sites, chief technology officer from Sunbelt Software, the problem of scareware is growing. He told BBC News: “In the last six months we have seen an enormous uptick in the number of people getting infected by these scareware or spyware agents. They are becoming a lot more prevalent and the ‘scare and scam' is all about getting money out of the user.”
‘Scareware' merchants are deemed to be those who trick computer users into clicking on pop-up alerts that claim their device is ‘damaged and corrupted'. The user is persuaded to buy software that corrects the non-existent issue by offering fake security fixes.
US attorney general Rob McKenna has filed a lawsuit against a Texas firm named Branch Software and Alpha Red, and its owner James Reed McCreary IV. The suit alleged that Mr McCreary's company “sent incessant pop-ups resembling system warnings to consumers' personal computers. The messages read ‘CRITICAL ERROR MESSAGE! - REGISTRY DAMAGED AND CORRUPTED.”
McKenna said: “We won't tolerate the use of alarmist warnings or deceptive ‘free scans' to trick consumers into buying software to fix a problem that doesn't even exist. We've repeatedly proven that internet companies that prey on consumers' anxieties are within our reach.”
The complaint goes on to claim that the ads ‘instructed users to visit a web site to download Registry Cleaner XP' at a cost of $39.95 (£21.70). The organisers behind the scheme took advantage of a Windows operating system feature designed to let computer network administrators send notices to people using the machines.
Microsoft referred the case to the attorney general's high tech unit and helped put the case together.
A recent report from North Carolina State University showed that most internet users are unable to tell the difference between genuine and fake pop-up messages.
Dr Michael S Wogalter, professor of psychology, said: “This study demonstrates how easy it is to fool people on the web.” Despite being told some of the messages were fake, people hit the OK button 63% of the time.