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Security & privacy

Watch out! A malicious ad is the top result when you search for this company on Google

So many different scams have transpired over the past year that it can be hard to keep up with new ones. The COVID-19 pandemic has opened up new ways for cybercriminals to target people on the web.

Think about all the COVID-related scams we’ve seen over the past few months alone. There have been tons of vaccine scams, stimulus check scams and even disinformation campaigns targeting people looking for vaccine information. This COVID vaccine scam is particularly nasty – here are the signs to watch for.

That’s not even touching upon other recent non-pandemic cybercrimes that have been going around, and yet another one is luring in victims as we speak. This one uses a malicious ad to trick you into clicking on it. Here’s everything you need to know.

Here’s the backstory

Looking for information on Home Depot? If so, you need to watch out for a malicious Home Depot advertising campaign that redirects Google search visitors to tech support scams.

According to Bleeping Computer, this scam uses Google search results to target victims. The site was first alerted to this scam by someone who fell for a malicious ad after searching for “home depot” in a Google search.

Here’s how this scam works:

  • Victims enter the term “home depot” in Google search, and the results return a malicious ad. The ad is placed at the top of the search results, adding to the likelihood that users will click on it.
  • This ad looks like a legitimate campaign for Home Depot, down to the standard URL — www.homedepot.com, which appears when you hover over the link.
  • If you click on the ad, you will be redirected via several different ad services and eventually land on a tech support scam, which they’ll try to convince you to buy your way out of via expensive and unnecessary software programs.

It’s the oldest trick in the book. The problem is, this type of scam can be super effective and can cause lots of issues if you fall for it.

What happens if I click on this malicious ad?

It’s easy to get tricked into clicking on this ad. If you fall for it, you will eventually be taken to a Windows Defender – Security Warning tech support scam. This scam will repeatedly open the Print dialog box, making it nearly impossible to close the page.

(Source: Bleeping Computer)

This issue with closing the page may prompt you to call the fake support line listed on the alert that pops up on your computer. If you call this number, you might be tricked into allowing scammers to remotely access your computer under the guise of it being tech support.

The goal is to eventually trick you into letting the scammers install troublesome programs like Lock My PC. Once your computer is locked, scammers will try to convince you to purchase a support package to unlock Windows.

It can be tough to spot this scam. The URL appears legitimate, which makes it hard to confirm that the ad is a scam.

Security professionals can’t always diagnose these ads, either. The ad only redirects to the scam once every 24 hours to the same IP address, making it tough to catch it at the right time.

In other words, once a tech support scam is shown to a victim by clicking on the ad, the subsequent ad clicks take the visitors to the legitimate site.

How to avoid this scam ad

We’ve seen plenty of similar scams in recent months. One of those scams involved the Federal Trade Commission website, which promised you money after your data is leaked – but it was fake.

To avoid these types of issues:

  • Your best bet is to visit the site you’re looking for directly. That way, you know you’re on the right site rather than being redirected to a malicious or spoofed site.
  • Never trust unsolicited links in texts or emails. Scams like these are spread all the time with malicious links sent in phishing texts and emails. That’s why it’s crucial not to click links sent to you in unsolicited messages.
  • Don’t download anything from a site’s supposed tech support. You’re opening your computer and your personal information up to scammers if you do.
  • Use reputable antivirus and anti-malware software. This type of software will alert you to potentially malicious sites like these and help you avoid the issues that come with them. Tap or click to find the best antivirus options for Mac and PC.
  • Look for the site’s security certificate. If there is a lock icon on the left of the search bar, click it and navigate to the certificate.

The bottom line

It can be tricky to spot malicious ads and sites like these, but it’s possible with some proactive behavior. Some safety precautions include: don’t trust unsolicited links, check URLs, visit sites directly and never let someone else access your computer via a program they want you to download. That is asking for trouble that you don’t need and isn’t easy to get rid of.

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