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by Ray Carlson

Q. I received a free virus check that discovered my computer had a virus my regular antivirus program had ignored. After the scan, I was told I could eliminate the virus by buying an antivirus program called Winfixer for $40. Should I accept?

A. No! Your experience is an example of one way malicious websites cause problems. There are variations, but several frauds follow a typical pattern. A company tricks a legitimate website into accepting an advertisement that includes a small computer program. When someone visits that webpage, the ad shifts the browser to another website where a popup encourages the free scan. If accepted, the scan appears to occur and lists bogus problems. Next, an offer to download a “better” antivirus program appears. If the person makes the purchase, the software is downloaded and indicates that the problem is fixed. But the company now has your money and your financial information.

The FTC got a restraining order stopping the company responsible for the software you mentioned, but the idea was so successful that others are copying it. If you notice that your computer jumps to a new site without you initiating the change, leave the second site. It is also good to ignore unsolicited software offers. If the software sounds useful, enter the name of the software into a search engine like Google. The search will usually find sites indicating whether the software is legitimate and will list safe sites for downloading validated programs.

Published: Courier 2/1/09 - Page 5C