Do You Have a Computer Virus?

Category: Security

A concerned AskBob reader asks: “Do I have a Virus? My computer will stop and it says I have a virus and to unfreeze everything I must call a number on the screen. Then supposedly they will walk me through the process to fix it. Is this true? I have antivirus installed but still, it pops up now and then.” Here's my diagnosis...

Virus Alert: Real or Rogue?

The reader didn't say whether these symptoms occurred when he was browsing the Web or when doing something else. If you see something similar, you may have a real virus in your computer, but more likely you're looking at a simulated virus that is nothing more than a Web page that a scammer has made difficult to close.

Either way, do not call that phone number! You will surely be connected to a fake “tech support rep” who will try to initiate a remote session with you. He'll also con you out of one or more credit card numbers (“Oops, that card was declined. Got another?”) He may also try to get your bank account numbers, Social Security Number, driver’s license number, and other data that can be used to steal your identity. After getting your payment details, he'll give you instructions for downloading something "to help you analyze and fix the problem."

The most likely result is that you WILL have a virus after dutifully following the instructions of the person on the other end of the phone. Adding insult to injury, new credit card charges will be rung up, leaving you to sort things out with the card issuer. So Rikki, don't use that number.

fake virus scam

If this “virus alert” pops up only when you are browsing the Web, it is probably a fake Web page. Your computer does not have a virus. But the fake page can be designed to take over your entire screen, leaving scant clues that a browser is open. The page may also include code that makes it very difficult to close the page, and which re-opens the page if you do manage to close it. Your first step to get out of this trap is to close your browser.

Press the Ctl-Shift-Esc keys simultaneously and hold them down until the “Task Manager” window appears. In the Processes tab you will see the name of your browser (Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome, Firefox etc.). Right-click that item and then click the “End Task” option to force the browser to close.

Eliminating a Malware Infection

If you suspect a virus infection, run the fullest, most in-depth scan that your antivirus software can perform. (See my article PC Matic Gets a Zero! for my recommended internet security tool.)

Then run another scan using another antivirus program, just to be sure. A free utility named ADWCleaner will scan your computer, browser, and Windows registry for extensions and other programs that may harbor this “tech support” scam.

If the “virus alert” went away when you closed your browser, then the problem is almost certainly browser-related. The alert may simply be a page on a shady Web site that you visited; the solution is to close that site’s tab or window and never go there again.

Another option is System Restore; roll back your Windows system to an earlier time before you started getting the “virus alert.” See my article, Try System Restore for Windows 10 for help with that.

Viruses generally don’t throw up “alerts” to let you know something is wrong. Most malware prefers to operate in secret, so you won't find and remove it. A computer that runs sluggishly may be infected with a virus. Whatever mischief the virus does in the background consumes resources and can slow everything else down.

One exception to the "viruses operate in secret" rule is ransomware. If your computer is locked and a screen instructs you to make a payment to restore access to your data, you may be a victim of ransomware. See my article Ransomware: Are You at Risk? to learn more about ransomware, prevention and recovery.

If you have a nagging feeling that you may have a computer virus, but you don't have any hard evidence, it can't hurt to check, even if it's for your peace of mind. See my instructions above to scan your computer for viruses if something doesn't seem right, or just as precautionary measure.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Do You Have a Computer Virus?"

Posted by:

20 Oct 2020

Another 'virus' that isn't really is fake warnings from browser notifications: is an example.
They get you to accept notifications under false pretenses and they bombard you with deceptive advertising.
They don't care about you, they get money for every ad they show you.
Bottom line: I don't accept browser notifications at all from anyone!

Posted by:

20 Oct 2020

My husband had a similar problem with that scam.
A warning came on the screen that the computer
was infected. We were to call MicroSoft at a
certain number. The person at the other end
was very helpful and proceeded to work on the
computer on line. It cost 250.00 dollars from
our debit card. It was difficult to get the
money back when we went to our bank. I think
we got some of it back. But we learned a lesson
because MicroSoft does not do that.

Posted by:

Beian B
20 Oct 2020

Ask yourself, "How does this site/page/person know that you have a virus" They don't, it's just a fishing expedition. If you see one of these notifications, close your browser, re boot your computer then run a comprehensive virus scan.

Posted by:

20 Oct 2020

Judith and her husband must be the most trusting people anywhere, bless them.
Any warnings that pop up on my screen, I simply ignore and reboot my computer. Nobody is getting nothing from me unless I know the source and how reliable it is. IOW, nobody is getting zero, zilch, nada from this very cynical computer user. I don't care how convincing an unsolicited notice that demands my attention may seem.

Remember the rule: You want my money, but you ain't getting it -- no way, no how!

Posted by:

Rick Stewart
20 Oct 2020

Similar to the "Hello. My name is William and I am from Microsoft Technical Department. We are seeing big problems with your computer" phone scams.

I usually ask them "Which computer? I have 15 here." I don't, but they don't know that and it doesn't fit with their script so the phone usually goes dead around then.

One guy I asked "OK, but out of interest, this is a very good line. Where are you calling from?" To which he replied "M/S Tech Dept." again. So I said "No, what town?"

"Please hold Sir. I will be asking my superior." I don't know what he came back with because I wasn't there if/when he returned. Bless :-)

Posted by:

20 Oct 2020

I have come across a few fake web pages while using Firefox and I have a good work-around to quickly eliminate the offending page with little time lost on the PC.
Upon encountering said page, DON'T PANIC! Move the offending page to the far right of your tabs to the end for easy access (this is important).
Go to Tools > Options > General > CHECK the box for: Restore previous session.
Close Options tab. Close the browser with the X in the corner. Get a drink, use the services, etc.
Turn on your browser and immediately hover your mouse where the offending tab would be. As soon as the browser opens all of your previous tabs will be up and ready to reload as soon as you click it if it's not already open. IMMEDIATELY click to close the offending tab that you placed for easy access BEFORE it has a chance to load along with FF. Problem solved.

Posted by:

21 Oct 2020

My favorite was the spurious p*rnography page that wouldn't go away. The page hijacked the little "x" in the window's upper right corner. It would close the page, and then re-display it. Cute. The p*rnography was low-budget, which was annoying. Bob, thanks for "Ctl-Shift-Esc". I didn't know about that, but Ctl-Alt-Del got me eventually to the task manager.

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