What Is a Fake Antivirus and How To Deal With It

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Antivirus provides the fundamental defense against threats to a computer system, and there are several options available. You can get a standalone program or a full security suite. Some companies offer a free version, while others require a monthly subscription fee.

While some are legitimate security software, others simply claim to be the real thing. Yes, there is such a thing as bogus antivirus.

Scammers are always seeking new methods to exploit unsuspecting internet users. You may ask, “What is a fake antivirus, and how does it affect my computer?” We’re going to answer that inquiry as well as cover related subjects.

What Is a Fake Antivirus?

Ever experienced having a pop-up message or notification show up as you surf the net, prompting you to buy antivirus software? It’s frequently disguised as the result of a “scan,” which normally shows a dozen infections on your PC. More often than not, that software and its processes are by no means legitimate.

At its core, a fake antivirus is any program that seems to be security software but does not operate as such.

Fake antiviruses are often a type of scareware, which is designed to trick users into thinking there is a harmful virus on their computer. The primary goal of whoever made them is to cause fear and convince you to pay for services or buy additional software to remove the “threat.”

How Does It Work?

The fake antivirus will initiate a “virus scan” and presents the potential victim with a thorough report. This report will claim that the scan discovered a large number of viruses in the computer system.

In some cases, a fake antivirus will change different settings in the OS and the user’s programs in the background. The victim will probably have no idea that these are happening. After the malicious software is done with these changes, it would appear that they are security issues even if they are not.

More complex varieties of fake antiviruses can simulate system failures to instill more worry and fear in the victim. As you can imagine, this can be harder to deal with for those who are not tech-savvy. That’s because the fake system crash notifications will look significantly similar to the original.

Since a fake antivirus is a sub-type of malware, it could slow down the victim’s computer. In certain situations, it will add desktop shortcuts and change the homepage of the browser.

When you realize you have a malware infection, it won’t let you uninstall the fake antivirus easily. In fact, the malware is almost always designed to modify the system settings to block any attempts to remove it.

The Entry Point

If you use search engines to find security solutions, you may come across suspicious URLs. Cybercriminals and scammers exploit search engine optimization (SEO) to ensure that their websites appear higher in search results.

Visitors of these websites are in danger of downloading rogue antivirus as a drive-by download. This is a process that downloads something without needing a manual action from the user. It can lead potential victims to conclude that their computers are infected. Then, they will receive instructions to download fake antivirus software from a malicious website.

To promote this scam, cybercriminals often use pop-up windows and phishing emails. Once downloaded, a rogue program will install itself by taking advantage of the computer’s vulnerabilities. It would use various file formats such as SWF, SQL, or PDF.


Nowadays, fake antivirus and other similar types of computer-related scams run rampant despite the efforts of various anti-cybercrime agencies. Most of the victims are elderly internet users or those who aren’t very knowledgeable about computers.

The scammers prey on the innocence of these people to convince them that they have to pay to remove these “viruses.” Often, these criminals won’t take credit card payments. Instead, they convince their victims to buy them gift cards or cheques to avoid getting chargebacks or flagged by the bank.

fake antivirus

How To Recognize Fake Antivirus

By now, you’re probably asking, “How can I protect myself against fake antiviruses?” The first step is recognizing them.

A well-built fake program has most of the elements you’ll see in a genuine antivirus product. Its dashboard or user interface (UI) is usually copied from one or multiple antivirus programs. You will see a status page that displays the scanning button, the computer’s security level, and the settings and updates section.

At a glance, you may find nothing unusual. However, if you pay more attention, that’s when you’ll notice some inconsistencies.

Usually, most rogue security software is made by those who use English as a second language. As such, you might see some spelling and grammatical mistakes. Also, there may be weird button locations and unprofessional-looking fonts and characters in the UI.

That said, if the fake antivirus is done correctly, you may not notice anything strange. Still, there is a deciding clue that will make you realize you have a fake antivirus running in the background. When it constantly disturbs your activities by launching a “scan” by itself, make no mistake, you’ve got one.

In the event that all these indications are not manifesting and you want to make sure, you can always check online.

Product pages for antiviruses from reputable cyber security providers should be available on the first page of the search results. You might also want to consider calling a tech-savvy relative or friend to help you determine if a fake antivirus runs on your computer.

How To Remove Fake Antivirus Program

A fake antivirus often blocks the installed security software features and disables various functions to prevent you from deactivating it. These rogue programs typically block you from launching any executable files, including web browsers, Command Prompt, Task Manager, and other system programs.

Essentially, it locks your computer (but not too much) while simultaneously protecting itself from getting deleted. Since you have limited functionality, it would be difficult to remove fake antivirus without some tools and knowledge.

The removal process may differ, too, as fake antiviruses are not built the same. If your computer is infected, the recommendations outlined below can assist in removing the malicious program.

Step 1: Scan your system.

Perform a comprehensive system scan using up-to-date legit security software, like Windows Defender. You may also utilize a real antivirus program from third-party developers. If you’re not sure which one to use, E-Set Antivirus and Malwarebytes are some of the highly-rated anti-malware programs.

Step 2: Force-stop rogue apps.

If the fake antivirus prevents you from running these programs, try using Process Explorer or other similar apps to stop the rogue applications from running. Once successful, run the antivirus software again.

Step 3: Restart and activate Safe Mode with Networking.

If these recommendations don’t work, restart your computer and select Safe Mode with Networking before it boots up normally. Open your security software and run the full system scan and wait until it’s finished.

Step 4: Hire an IT pro.

Consult a trustworthy IT expert if all of these fail. You may have to reformat your computer as a last resort.

How To Avoid Fake Antivirus Programs

Protecting your computer from fake antivirus programs could save you significant time and effort. Anyone asking, “How can I protect myself against fake antiviruses?” should check out these recommendations.

Research Before Installing Anything

Never install any software without first investigating the reputation of the company offering it. You can’t depend on the ads because all they provide are the positives about their product.

Clicking on a link without thinking might lead you to a suspicious website or allow malicious programs to run on your computer. Always perform research on any programs you encounter to see if they are trustworthy of your subscription.

Strengthen Your Computer’s Security

You need to have the proper tools and settings activated to boost protection against possible threats, like a fake antivirus.

Firstly, always make sure to apply any updates to your antivirus program. Configure your antivirus to execute system updates automatically. Updates are constantly released to correct any previous issues or to offer users better features.

Consider having a scheduled full system scan regularly. Doing this ensures that your computer is constantly monitored for possible infections. Also, disable remote access because scammers often use this to access the sensitive data saved on your computer.

Be Vigilant

Even if you have optimal security software and settings, we highly recommend being always updated on the latest scams.

Fortunately, there are YouTube content creators, such as Jim Browning, who expose the scammers behind these fake messages and their operations. Once you have an idea of how these criminals operate, it will be much easier to avoid getting victimized.

What Is a Fake Antivirus Pop-up?

Fake antivirus can also come in the form of pop-ups. Unlike the rogue programs, these pop-ups do not need installation to trick people. Instead, they run through the browser you are using and flood you with notifications about viruses and hackers.

Fake pop-ups are dangerous. That’s why you should never click them, whatever the alert is about. For example, you could receive a bogus virus warning indicating that your computer is infected, so you must install a certain antivirus program.

Reputable websites won’t feature any of these malicious pop-ups. However, infected and suspicious websites often have quite a lot of them.

Fake virus alerts were more widespread in the past when devices were more vulnerable and users were less aware of such scams. While the number of victims has dwindled in recent years, it didn’t stop cyber criminals from attempting to exploit internet users.

How To Recognize Fake Antivirus Pop-ups

The structure of fake antivirus programs and pop-ups are almost identical. Let’s identify some indicators we haven’t covered in detail yet.

  • A fake virus notification pop-up will shamelessly try to scare you into acting rashly and purchasing the supposed antivirus. The typical warning is either about viruses or hackers. However, these messages are all false and should be ignored at all costs.
  • Whenever a pop-up instructs you to call a number to fix the “issues,” it’s most likely a scam. Legitimate security software companies usually prefer communications via email.

Fake Antivirus FAQs

1. Who creates these fake antiviruses and pop-ups?

Most of the fake tech support representatives are based in India. According to Business Standard, there are over 200,000 scam attacks from the country alone that got blocked just from the first quarter of 2021.

For a long time, India has had the reputation of being a hub for these unscrupulous practices. While many call centers are already exposed, it would be overly optimistic to think that these scammers will stop soon.

2. Can a VPN service help prevent fake antivirus?

VPNs are not a substitute for comprehensive antivirus software. Yes, they will safeguard your IP address and encrypt your online history, but that’s about it. If you visit phishing sites or download malicious files, most VPNs won’t be able to protect you.

3. How to stop fake antivirus?

Fake antivirus is designed to scam money rather than harm a computer. Therefore, there’s no guarantee that legitimate antivirus software programs will catch them.

Learning how fake antivirus scams work is perhaps the most effective method to prevent getting scammed. They usually do their scamming over the phone. If you can avoid talking to them, it’s essentially impossible for these criminals to fool you.

4. Can you sue the people who make fake antivirus programs and pop-ups?

Unfortunately, it’s hard to catch these people because most of them operate overseas. Even if their call center is raided by the police, chances are, there will be a new one that replaces them.

Some of these scammers are working from home, which makes it more difficult to make them accountable. Yes, there are records that people submitted information about these operations to the authorities. However, it appears that almost nothing has come out of it.

5. Are fake antiviruses capable of stealing your data?

In most cases, fake antiviruses are not designed to collect data. They are made to fool and scare people into believing there are computer-related threats that require immediate action.

That said, if a “tech support” managed to have a remote connection on a computer, it’s entirely possible that your data will get compromised. When that happens, your credit card details, login credentials, and other personal data can be collected. Never allow remote access to anyone you don’t know because many scams are successful because of it.

The Bottomline

Fake antivirus programs and pop-ups are some of the most common ways people get scammed. While it’s easy for techies to recognize them, not everyone is cautious enough to avoid these rogue software.

Unfortunately, cybercriminals won’t stop making new ways to get money out of people. We can only hope that authorities will do something about it soon.

Uday Tank is a serial entrepreneur and content marketing leader. He has a wide variety of interests and enjoys writing, including marketing, productivity, business, health, diversity, and management.