Gone Fishing! The Perils of Click-Bait

You are about to download your favorite sewing pattern, to read that funny article from Facebook that all your friends are liking, or to take a quiz about your IQ score, when all the article blurb boxes at the bottom of your page are piquing your curiosity to click on something like “What doctors DON’T want you to know!” You click on something and suddenly you have a message about your computer being filled with viruses, or needing to be optimized, or even 4 other software changes along with the sewing “pattern” you thought you were getting.

Surfing the web these days is becoming more like navigating a giant Hawaiian breaker with killer coral reefs at the end, rather than the tender rolling waves enticing playful body surfing. And all those glorious little temptations on websites, like glimmering colorful fish, are what are called “click-bait.” Click that article, and you are hooked into a line of destructive adware!

Lets look at one of these tricky little buggers. I was on a website that was looking at my cookies while I gleefully searched for the sewing pattern a client was needing. (Remember that article I wrote on clearing your cookies? If you need a refresher, read my Don’t be a Cookie Hoarder! article.) The site knew that I had searched for PDF tools, Moodboard templates for Photoshop, and that I was helping my client with her search for a “Zippy Handbag Pattern.” It told me to “Start Download – Start Here” but what it really did was install “Unzippy” a zip utility tool AND, to my educated frustration, MacUpdater AND MegaBackup! Forget about getting the sewing pattern!!

But sometimes there is a tiny little clue that something like this might happen, and you have to look closely. See the tiny teal X and the triangle in the graphic to the right? Those symbols indicate this is an AD that you can CLOSE or “contest!” Not every click-bait does this. But it is easy to fall for it when you think you have gotten what you are looking for. (You can also pay attention for “sponsored ad” language) I have seen this behavior with downloads for ANTIVIRUS software (when a third party offers it, like CNET Downloads.) I think I am getting my download but I am not!

And there are other tricks up the sleeves of advertisers. Some sites trigger a warning sign. It may tell you your phone has a virus (especially when reading an article or taking a quiz from a Facebook post) and send you on the path for repairs… or right into the painful coral reef. I always quit my app, immediately, then return to my normal Facebook feed.

Some sites may suggest that your “Flash” is out of date or not working – so they send you to install the latest version (NOPE!) This instead leads you to a fake site that gives you the “Flash download” filled with extra garbage! ALWAYS go to the actual site for these types of tools and NEVER trust the link on a site with tons of ads!

AND, when you go to legitimate sites to install new tools, always read through each step, to make sure you are not opting in to installing other things. When I install Adobe free products, like Flash or Reader, there is usually a step that asks to change my default search engine (like from Google to Yahoo) or to install PC Tools (that scans my system for updates). These may not be malicious, but software companies try to sneak them in for advertisers at your expense!

 

Before you panic, or if you are ever unsure, give me a call. I can’t tell you how many times I have gotten an email, call, or text, telling me about a pop-up that was just as quickly handled as quitting the browser, closing the app, or shutting off the computer.

  • If it is suspicious to you, then listen to that instinct!
  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • And if it tells you that you need something you didn’t need before, go DIRECTLY to your bank, PayPal, software provider, or other reference FIRST before clicking that link and having a wipe-out on that surfing venture!

Here are some tools that I use to keep my surfing safer:

  • Reduce malicious ads by installing this browser extension to your Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Opera, or IE: https://www.getadblock.com/ Consider donating to the developers – these people work for FREE to keep the internet safe, and they love when they get a tip. I consider it part of my antivirus regime and paid $20 towards their coffee fund with gratitutde.
  • Keep your antivirus up to date – and if you are using FREE antivirus, consider upgrading to a paid-for subscription (See my Link Resources page for Antivirus suggestions)
  • Be wary of the ways advertisers use your curiosity against you! With changes to privacy rules moving along the pike in this administration, you are losing out more and more to advertisers, who use your surfing cookies to grab your attention! Clear out cookies and keep an eye out for upcoming articles on improving your privacy online!

 

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