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Scareware: What it is and how to protect yourself

Scareware scams can be stressful, costly, and time-consuming. Luckily, there are warning signs that can help you spot scareware hiding in plain sight — read on to learn more.

3 min read

Whether you’ve heard the term before or not, chances are that you’ve seen scareware. Falling for scareware scams can cost you both money and time, but being aware of the warning signs is the first step to protecting yourself (and your money).

In this article, we’ll explain what scareware is, how it works, and how you can keep your money safe. Let’s go! 

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What is scareware?

Scareware is a type of online scam that uses one major tactic: fear. The goal of scareware is to make users believe that their devices are at risk or already compromised, and to persuade them to download software that claims to protect them. The catch? Often, this software is actually malicious. Scareware attacks are a form of social engineering — they rely on victims’ fear and lack of technical knowledge, convincing them to download and pay for fake antivirus or other malicious software. 

Scareware usually appears as pop-ups, fake scans and security alerts, or even warning messages that look like official system notifications. All too quickly, users can be tricked into buying and downloading useless or damaging software programs.

Another type of scareware masquerades as “free” trial software. It requires users to purchase a license, but the code might actually be fake or malicious. Hackers then use the software to access their victims’ personal information, such as passwords or financial data. It can also be used to gain control of a computer or other electronic device, or to damage systems by slowing down performance, redirecting web traffic, and creating security vulnerabilities.

Protecting yourself from scareware

Luckily, once you know what the red flags are, you can often spot scareware hiding in plain sight. Here are several things you can do to protect yourself from scareware:

  1. Watch out for messages that look like official system warnings, but that redirect you to an unknown website or prompt you to download some kind of paid software. 
  2. Be wary of pop-up windows that ask you to download any software, especially if you’re being pushed to install it immediately. 
  3. Never download software from untrustworthy sources, such as pop-up windows or phishing emails. 
  4. Use reputable antivirus software that regularly scans your devices — and that includes checking your phone for malware, too.
  5. Keep your software and operating systems up to date.
  6. Be careful with unfamiliar websites and emails, and don't share your personal information with unknown companies or brands. Another tip: Check out our guide to keeping your money safe while shopping online! 
  7. In general, never click on suspicious links or download unfamiliar software.

One final thing you can do to protect yourself from scareware: Make sure that you have strong anti-malware and antivirus protection on all of your devices. This can help to detect any malicious software — and block it before it installs itself.

Security at N26

Scareware is like plenty of other online scams: Forewarned is forearmed. By learning the red flags, you can better protect yourself and your data. Want to learn even more tips and tricks for staying safe online? Read much more in our security guide — and make sure you always use strong passwords.

At N26, we take security seriously. If you spot any suspicious activity on your account, you can immediately lock your card right from your N26 app. Plus, get extra visibility and peace of mind thanks to instant notifications whenever money enters or leaves your account. Visit our accounts page to find the N26 bank account that’s right for you.

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