The Microsoft virus alert warns you that your computer is infected and tells you to call a number for help. Does Microsoft warn about viruses? No. The warning can be a pop-up message or an email that installs a worm if you click a button or link. Scam artists are also calling people at random and misrepresenting themselves as Microsoft.
Updated, originally published 2/18/2018
How the Microsoft Virus Alert scam works
Names changed to protect privacy:
Bill was surprised by a pop-up notification on his computer warning of a virus. The message told him to call a Microsoft specialist to clean the virus, and he called.
The “tech support” person asked for Bill’s credit card numbers and for remote access to his computer to clean the so-called virus. Bill gave the fake Microsoft tech support agent this information and access.
A similar situation happened recently to Alice. She doesn’t have a Microsoft Windows computer but believed a persuasive email telling her that her computer had a virus. She called the number but did not provide any financial information. The result: relentless phone calls and emails telling her the computer is infected, although she now knows this is not true.
How to know the virus warning is fake
Below is a screenshot of the Microsoft virus alert I received in my web browser. If you see something similar in your browser, email or computer’s notification area (lower right, usually), don’t call. Don’t click.
This warning is a tech support scam, and it’s not really from your computer but a hacker’s website. Close the browser window.
I was amused when I saw the pop-up in my browser. I wasn’t even using a Microsoft Windows system! I was using my ASUS Chromebook Flip. Mac users can get the same fake warnings, although it doesn’t make sense.
The virus warning page loaded when I was attempting to shop on LL Bean’s website. You can see from the screenshot that I mistyped llbean.com. A hacker set up the scam to catch shoppers who misspell “.com”.
What can happen if you fall for the scam?
If you call the fake Microsoft support to get the virus cleaned off your computer (but you won’t, right?), the agent asks for your bank account or credit card information to pay for the service. Once they have that information, they can make purchases with your card or drain your checking account.
How did things end for Bill? He and his wife met at the bank to close their credit card and open a new account. Fortunately, the hacker did not yet attempt to access the account. They brought the laptop to Geek Squad to remove the malware the criminal installed. Alice closed her Chromebook and is waiting for help to clear the virus warning. Although Chromebooks don’t get malware, the fake warning won’t go away, making the computer unusable until removed.
What to do if you get a virus warning from Microsoft
If you spoke to the spammers and gave any financial account information, immediately close the account. Consider getting identity theft protection, especially if you allowed access to your computer so they could “repair” it.
Do not click or call if you get a Microsoft virus warning in Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox or any other browser. These alerts are convincing and alarming. Take a deep breath and pay attention to a few things.
Microsoft will not send you a virus warning email. Mark such emails as spam and do not open them.
Is the warning in a browser window? Look at the address bar and see if you haven’t entered a site URL incorrectly. If so, you know it’s a scam. If not, the site you were attempting to visit was hacked. Either way, close the window. Click on nothing.
If your Chromebook is unusable and stuck on a Microsoft virus warning, follow Google’s directions for clearing the notice. See this helpful Q&A in the Support forum as well. Your Chromebook is not infected.
If you can’t close a fake virus warning on a Windows computer, either have your computer cleaned by a professional or follow Microsoft’s removal guide to clear the malware.
Use your antivirus software to run a deep or full scan. Depending on your system (age of the computer, hard drive size, etc.), the scan may take a couple of hours to complete. The peace of mind is worth it.
Tips for avoiding the fake Microsoft virus warnings:
- Microsoft does not care enough to call or email. The company is not in the online antivirus business, and support agents are not waiting to come to your rescue if you get a virus warning.
- Use antivirus software. Update when prompted and renew the subscription as needed unless it’s free antivirus software. Remember what antivirus software you use. A pop-up from another antivirus is fake. Know what your A/V is called folks, whether it’s Norton, AVG, Malwarebytes or another title.
- The safest computer system you can use right now is a Chromebook (ASUS and Samsung make some excellent systems). You will still be vulnerable to email scams, so delete emails from Microsoft without opening them. My experience is that a Chromebook does 99% of what a PC does.