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Security & privacy

Be careful what you click — Scammers are hiding malware in ads

The most convenient (and often the fastest) way to find information on a business or service is through a search engine. Google is at the top, with billions of daily queries. But not all results can be trusted. Tap or click here for our search engine comparison: Google vs. Startpage vs. DuckDuckGo vs. Bing.

In addition to other ventures, Google makes money by selling advertising in its search results. Anybody can pay to have their results displayed at the top of the page, above all other possible results. And scammers are exploiting this.

Read on about how scammers grab the top spots on search results to steal your money and information. 

Here’s the backstory

Google has several places where you can buy advertising space. The most common is a square on the side of the results page or through Google Ads, which places advertising on any website that signs up for it.

But another lucrative spot is at the top of the search results page. Companies pay big money to have their business show up first, especially when people google for a competing product. If you don’t pay attention, you won’t notice that it’s an ad.

And that is precisely what scammers are hoping as they come after your information. According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaints Center, scammers link high-value advertising spots to fake websites.

“When a user searches for that business or service, these advertisements appear at the very top of search results with minimum distinction between an advertisement and an actual search result,” the agency explains.

If you click on the advertising link, it takes you to a malicious page that looks similar to the authentic business. In many cases, these are cryptocurrency exchange platforms that require you to log in. When you do, the scammers steal your details.

RELATED: Malware is hidden in these fake apps that impersonate the real versions

What you can do about it

You can do several things to ensure you don’t hand over your personal information to scammers. While search engine advertisements are not malicious in nature, it’s vital to practice caution when accessing a web page through an advertised link.

Here are tips given by the FBI to stay protected:

  • Before clicking on an advertisement, check the URL to ensure the site is authentic. A malicious domain name may be similar to the intended URL but with typos or a misplaced letter.
  • Rather than search for a business or financial institution, type the business’s URL into an internet browser’s address bar to access the official website directly.
  • Use an ad-blocking extension when performing internet searches. Most internet browsers allow a user to add extensions, including extensions that block advertisements. These ad blockers can be turned on and off within a browser to permit advertisements on certain websites while blocking advertisements on others.

You should also have antivirus software running on all of your devices. We recommend our sponsor, TotalAV. Right now, get an annual plan with TotalAV for only $19 at That’s over 85% off the regular price!

Keep reading

That’s not the FBI on the phone, but here’s how scammers will scare you

Warning: Scammers are pretending to be your cable and internet company

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