Why do I have so many pop-up ads? Your computer may be infected

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Annoyed by pop-up ads? Experts say you can’t stop hackers, but you can protect yourself against any cybercriminal who wants to use your information for profit. (Photo: Getty)

Remember when you could surf the web without being harassed by one pop-up ad after another? Between “Congratulations! You’ve won $1 million” and “Alert! Virus Detected,” constant, unwanted pop-up ads have become a frustrating reality for our online experience — and most (but not all) are just spam in disguise.

Whether a pop-up ad offers you a deal that seems life-changing or gives you a warning that scares you half to death, never just click impulsively, warns Adam Levin, founder of cyber scout, to Yahoo Life. At worst, pop-up ads, also known as adware, are laced with malware or malicious programs designed to infect your computer as soon as you click them, stealing your most sensitive data, from Social Security numbers to online banking information.

“If you don’t want to regret it, go to the source,” Levin says. “That is, think before you click. Pause. Think about the kind of security software you have on your device. Contact that particular software vendor, even by looking at your computer or mobile device, but don’t just click [a pop-up] because it says you have a problem.”

Try System Mechanic free for 30 days.  (Photo: iolo)

Try System Mechanic free for 30 days. (Photo: iolo)

How do you know if your computer is already infected with malware? Here are 5 telltale signs – and how to prevent a system invasion before it happens.

1. Endless pop-up ads telling you you won “a million dollars” or “a free psychic reading”

Pop-up ads

Pop-up ads

Software like System Engineer can only clear already infected machines, meaning you’ve already fallen into the trap. Malware-laced adware makes your screen such a landmine that clicking the wrong link is easy. It is designed to be that way.

“Hackers are very smart, and they want to get you at a time when you’re focused on something else,” says Levin, also the author of “Swiped: how to protect yourself in a world full of scammers, phishers and identity thieves‘. “They may want to be part of what you’re doing (like buying a product or subscribing to a service), so you don’t really notice what you’re clicking on.”

Levin says one method hackers use is arousal tactics. “You’ll think, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe this deal is possible. This is so exciting. I’ve been waiting for a deal like this,'” he says. “Then you click. And then unfortunately, if it’s a pop-up, and it’s infected, your world can be turned upside down.” The worst scenario is identity theft.

2. Pop-up ads constantly warn you that “your system is infected with a virus or malware” and that their service will save you

A pop-up ad like this can seem scary.  Resist the clicking.  (Photo: Getty)

A pop-up ad like this can seem scary. Resist the clicking. (Photo: Getty)

Of course, hackers don’t just use honey to lure you into their adware schemes. As Levin says, many cybercriminals use scare tactics instead. He says this method is even more effective because panic makes you act impulsively — which is exactly how hackers try to catch you.

When faced with a pop-up telling you that your system has been compromised by a virus, malware, or ransomware, Levin tells him to do it cool.

“They want you to believe that you have a big problem and you solve the problem by downloading something or by providing certain information that allows you to verify yourself,” Levin says. “Never authenticate yourself to anyone you don’t know, or who you think you might know, without being sure you know who they are.”

3. Your system repeatedly slows down, crashes, freezes, or the links you click take you to inaccurate web pages

A slow, glitchy computer that crashes a lot – or completely misleading links in online content – are more obvious signs that malware has infiltrated your system, most likely because you clicked on malicious adware at some point. While software like System technician can clean your computer — there are also important proactive measures to take.

One of Levin’s most important rules for avoiding malware is to “run antivirus software and update it regularly”. And when it comes to software that will thwart adware and malware before it even finds an entry point, Malwarebytes is the clear winner.

Malwarebytes Premium Multiple DevicesThe uses smart technology to monitor your computer 24/7 and prevent malware infections. It constantly scans for viruses and malware and immediately removes anything suspicious.

Malwarebytes Premium Multi-Device (Photo: Malwarebytes)

Malwarebytes Premium Multi-Device (Photo: Malwarebytes)

4. You suddenly see new toolbars, extensions or plugins in your browser – and you never installed them

When malware enters your system, it takes over and places traps on your computer in an attempt to expose all of your most sensitive information. This can masquerade as toolbars, extensions, or plugins that you never installed. It could be a sign that you unknowingly clicked on the wrong pop-up ad and you are now paying the price.

As terrifying as it is, treat unwanted popups the same way you would spam email, Levin advises. Don’t click or download anything, don’t provide any personal information, or provide login credentials, he says. Log in directly to your System Engineer or Malwarebytes Accountfor example to solve problems. Never respond to a popup that claims it will remove malware for you. Go straight to the source.

5. Your browser home page changes without your permission

Yahoo homepage

Yahoo homepage

An eerie change to your computer’s default homepage is a red flag that should be investigated immediately as it could indicate a malware invasion. In some cases, Levin recommends going directly to your anti-virus or anti-malware program’s legitimate website to get to the bottom of it. “Go straight to your account and update what needs to be updated,” he says.

Be sure to double check the URL for typos – called “typosquatting” – is a type of URL hijacking that relies on typos to mislead unsuspecting visitors. This can also be a gateway to malware.

System Engineer and MalwareBytes Premium Multi-Device

System Engineer and MalwareBytes Premium Multi-Device

Of System Engineer and Malwarebytes Premium Multiple DevicesThe, you know that your computer is protected from the threats that exist online every day.

You can’t stop hackers, but you can arm yourself well against any cybercriminal who wants to use your information for profit and create a destructive mess that could take years to clean up.

“I understand that a lot of people take the stance that ‘I get something for free, so I don’t mind being the product,'” Levin says of the Internet of Things. “The only problem is that you could become a product at a price you are not willing to pay.”

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