WASHINGTON (WUSA) -- Anti-virus software is one of the easiest ways consumers can protect their computers, but that protection has become a target for scammers. A consumer's best intentions can end up being pretty costly.
Internet security experts have noticed a fast-growing trend: scammers trying to snare well-intentioned customers with fake anti-virus warnings and malware.
"Nowadays it's gotten a lot worse because cyber-criminals can make a lot of money off of this so they've developed elaborate graphical user-interfaces to mimic things," said security expert Derek Manky.
Manky says the scareware can silently install itself on a computer and try to hijack existing anti-virus software.
Red flags that a virus warning may not be legitimate can include redirecting a user to a website and asking for a credit card number to fix the so-called problem.
In the event of a scam, take the computer offline, reinstall existing anti-virus software and complete a new scan of the device.
To avoid getting tripped up by such a scam in the first place, have safe web browsing in place as well as web filtering security software and anti-virus protection to block malicious websites.
If you do fall for the scareware pitch -- what you get for your money is often a junk software program. The bigger issue -- you may also now have downloaded a virus to you computer -- making the problem so much worse.