What is Scareware? Everything You Need to Know (2023)

By Tibor Moes / Updated: June 2023

What is Scareware? Everything You Need to Know (2023)<br />

What is Scareware?

Ever found yourself suddenly bombarded with alarming pop-ups or urgent emails, warning you of non-existent threats? Welcome to the world of scareware, malicious software designed to prey on fear and panic. In today’s digital age, understanding scareware and its tactics is crucial in safeguarding your privacy and security. So let’s dive into the realm of scareware and learn how to recognize, remove, and ultimately prevent it from causing havoc.


  • Scareware is malicious software designed to trick users into downloading or buying unwanted software by generating alarming, yet false, security warnings.

  • Typically, scareware mimics legitimate antivirus alerts, causing unnecessary panic and potentially leading to harmful downloads.

  • Countermeasures include installing reputable antivirus programs, ignoring unsolicited alerts, and being cautious while navigating unfamiliar websites or links.

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Understanding Scareware: Definition and Tactics

Scareware is a type of malicious software that exploits human psychology by employing scare tactics to deceive users into visiting malware-infested websites or downloading fake antivirus software. The primary goal of scareware is to trick users into believing their devices are under threat and coerce them into paying for fake security products or services. In the worst-case scenario, scareware can even lead to identity theft or credit card fraud.

Cybercriminals utilize social engineering tactics, such as aggressive scareware pop-ups and urgent messages, to manipulate users into taking immediate action. These scare tactics often exaggerate the severity of the purported threat, instilling panic and creating a sense of urgency. Some scareware attacks are designed to mimic the appearance of legitimate antivirus software, making it even more challenging for users to differentiate between genuine and fake solutions.

Unfortunately, scareware is on the rise, and cybercriminals are becoming more sophisticated in their methods. This makes understanding and recognizing scareware tactics essential in protecting oneself from such threats.

Real-Life Scareware Examples

Many forms of scareware exist, but one of the most common examples involves fake antivirus and anti-malware solutions, which mimic legitimate security programs’ user interfaces and use convincing names. These deceptive programs often make bold claims, warning users of multiple infections and urging immediate action to prevent severe consequences.

Scareware scams have made headlines in recent years, with victims losing significant amounts of money and sensitive information. Take, for example, an insurance agent in the US who lost over $2,000 in a scareware scam involving a fake tech support call. Another notable example is the W-2 Scareware Scam, where cybercriminals posing as company executives targeted HR and payroll departments, attempting to obtain employees’ W-2 forms and wire transfers.

These real-life examples demonstrate the severity of scareware threats and the importance of staying vigilant.

Identifying Scareware: Red Flags and Warning Signs

Recognizing scareware can be a challenge, but there are several common warning signs to look out for, such as aggressive pop-ups, urgent messages, and suspicious download prompts.

In the following sections, we’ll dive deeper into these red flags, helping you spot scareware before it wreaks havoc on your digital life.

Fake Alerts and Pop-ups

Fake alerts and pop-ups are a primary weapon in scareware attacks, designed to create a sense of urgency and fear in users. These intrusive messages often warn of nonexistent threats, such as viruses or malware, and aggressively prompt users to take immediate action. Cybercriminals rely on our natural instinct to protect ourselves and our devices, exploiting this fear to manipulate us into downloading malicious software or paying for fake security solutions.

Spotting fake alerts and pop-ups requires a keen eye and attention to detail. Telltale signs include the use of scare tactics, typos or grammatical errors, and the absence of a legitimate security logo. By being aware of these signs, we can effectively avoid falling victim to scareware attacks.

Unsolicited Emails and Messages

Another common scareware tactic involves unsolicited emails and messages, often known as spam or junk emails. These messages may appear to come from legitimate sources, such as banks, government bodies, or other organizations, but they contain malicious links or attachments.

Clicking on these links or opening the attachments can lead to the installation of scareware on your device. To avoid this trap, remain cautious when dealing with unsolicited emails or messages and verify their authenticity before taking any action.

Removing Scareware: Step-by-Step Guide

If you suspect that your device has been compromised by scareware, it’s crucial to act quickly and remove the threat.

In the following sections, we’ll guide you through the process of removing scareware from both PCs and Macs, including uninstalling malicious applications, using safe mode, and employing antivirus/anti-malware tools.

Scareware Removal for PCs

To remove scareware from a Windows PC, start by accessing the control panel. Open the Start menu and select the “Control Panel” option. In the “Programs” category, click on “Uninstall a program,” find the spyware, and click “Uninstall”. Follow the prompts to remove the malicious software from your device.

In some cases, you may need to enter Safe Mode with Networking to completely eradicate the scareware threat. Once in Safe Mode, run a trusted antivirus software to scan your device and remove any remaining scareware components.

Scareware Removal for Macs

Removing scareware from a Mac involves locating and trashing malicious applications. Open the Applications section of the Finder window, drag the unwanted program to the trash, and then empty the trash.

Additionally, download a reliable malware removal tool to locate and delete any leftover scareware files.

Prevention Strategies: How to Protect Yourself from Scareware

While removing scareware is crucial, prevention is always the best course of action. By adopting some practical strategies, such as using trusted security software and avoiding suspicious pop-ups and links, we can defend ourselves against scareware attacks.

Choosing Reputable Security Solutions

Selecting reputable security solutions from trusted providers is essential in protecting against scareware and other cyber threats. Legitimate cybersecurity companies never use intrusive fear-mongering tactics to promote their products, and their solutions offer higher quality and effectiveness in safeguarding your devices and personal information.

Safe Browsing Habits

In addition to using reputable security solutions, practicing safe browsing habits is vital in preventing scareware attacks. This includes keeping your systems and software up-to-date, steering clear of suspicious websites, using strong passwords, clearing cookies and cache, and employing antivirus and firewall protection.

By adopting these habits, we can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to scareware and other cyber threats.


In conclusion, understanding scareware, its tactics, and prevention strategies is crucial in today’s digital landscape. By recognizing the red flags, such as aggressive pop-ups and unsolicited emails, we can avoid falling victim to scareware attacks. Furthermore, adopting safe browsing habits and choosing reputable security solutions can safeguard our devices and personal information from cyber threats. Stay vigilant, stay informed, and stay protected against the ever-evolving world of scareware.

How to stay safe online:

  • Practice Strong Password Hygiene: Use a unique and complex password for each account. A password manager can help generate and store them. In addition, enable two-factor authentication (2FA) whenever available.
  • Invest in Your Safety: Buying the best antivirus for Windows 11 is key for your online security. A high-quality antivirus like Norton, McAfee, or Bitdefender will safeguard your PC from various online threats, including malware, ransomware, and spyware.
  • Be Wary of Phishing Attempts: Be cautious when receiving suspicious communications that ask for personal information. Legitimate businesses will never ask for sensitive details via email or text. Before clicking on any links, ensure the sender's authenticity.
  • Stay Informed. We cover a wide range of cybersecurity topics on our blog. And there are several credible sources offering threat reports and recommendations, such as NIST, CISA, FBI, ENISA, Symantec, Verizon, Cisco, Crowdstrike, and many more.

Happy surfing!

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are the most frequently asked questions.

What is scareware?

Scareware is a type of malware that aims to scare people into downloading malicious software or buying unnecessary software by making false claims about virus threats or data breaches. It often takes the form of pop-up ads, and can also spread through spam emails. Generally speaking, this type of attack takes the form of a pop-up ad, and relies heavily on social engineering tactics to manipulate people’s fear and vulnerability.

Is scareware harmful?

Yes, scareware can be highly damaging and harmful. It can result in data loss, system damage, financial losses, and theft of personal information, making it an especially dangerous type of malware. Businesses are particularly vulnerable to the risks posed by this malicious software.

How do I remove scareware from my computer?

Removing scareware from your computer doesn’t have to be a daunting task. With just a few simple steps, you can get rid of the malicious software and get back to work or play.

Firstly, open your Windows search box and type control panel, select Control Panel, then Programs and look for the scareware program. Uninstall it and confirm by selecting OK if a confirmation box comes up. That’s all there is to it!

If you can’t find it, it might have hidden itself as a seemingly legitimate program. The search then becomes significantly harder. It would be wise to buy and install a reputable antivirus program, like Norton or Bitdefender, to remove the scareware for you.

Author: Tibor Moes

Author: Tibor Moes

Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab

Tibor has tested 39 antivirus programs and 30 VPN services, and holds a Cybersecurity Graduate Certificate from Stanford University.

He uses Norton to protect his devices, CyberGhost for his privacy, and Dashlane for his passwords.

You can find him on LinkedIn or contact him here.