You’re browsing the internet on your Android phone. You’re probably using the Chrome app. Everything seems normal until a pop-up invades your screen. Maybe it says "Congratulations, Amazon.com user" and offers you a chance for a gift. Or maybe it shouts out a dire warning that your phone is infected with viruses and that you should follow its instructions to remove them.
What you’ve just experienced is a form of malvertising, malicious pop-up ads that try to convince you to give up personal or financial information or to download malware onto your device.
These pop-ups can look alluring or alarming, but don’t be tempted to tap on any links or buttons in them. There’s no free Amazon gift card waiting for you on the other side. Reports of these sort of scams really ramped up in 2018, but you can take steps to recognize them and prevent yourself from becoming a victim.
What to do
Some of these pop-ups have appeared on legitimate websites by sneaking through advertising networks. If you’re faced with a pop-up, the first and most important step you can take is to not tap on any links or buttons. Don’t try to answer a fake Amazon survey or quiz. Don’t tap on a "get help" button on a fake virus warning. Stay wary and don’t give out any personal information, passwords, or financial information.
Your next step is to close the tab with the pop-up if you can. One way to do this is to tap on the number in the square near the top that tells you how many tabs you have open. From there, tap on the X for the offending tab or swipe it away to the left to close it. You can close the entire browser if necessary by hitting the square in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen that shows all your open apps. Again, hit the X or swipe left to close Chrome.
There can be some variations between different versions of Android. If you’re running the latest Android Pie operating system, which is limited to only certain phones, then check out our primer on Pie’s new features and how the home button has changed.
Is my phone infected?
Your first worry may be that your phone really does have a virus of some sort, but chances are good your phone is fine. The sort of pop-ups we’re talking about are malicious, but they’re not viruses. If you’re still concerned about hacking, then check out our list of seven clear-cut signs that you’ve been hacked.
Android malware is a real issue. If you suspect your problem runs deeper than malvertising in your browser, then follow our steps for removing questionable apps. You can also download and run an anti-virus and anti-malware app like the popular Malwarebytes.
Make sure pop-ups are blocked
Google has been taking steps to protect Chrome browser users from malicious pop-ups that try to direct them away from legitimate sites. Chrome automatically blocks pop-ups by default, but you can double check to make sure the setting is on. Open Chrome and tap the three dots in the upper right-hand corner. Choose Settings and tap on Site settings. Look for the "Pop-ups and redirect" setting and check that it’s set to blocked.
Update your software
One of your best lines of defense is to keep your phone updated to the most recent versions of the Android operating system and the Chrome browser that you can. Most phones have an automated update system for the OS and apps. To check that Chrome is up to date, open the Play Store app, tap on the three lines in the corner, and choose My apps & games. Check under updates to see if any Chrome updates are waiting and select the update button if necessary.
Tech companies are locked in a constant battle with scammers who are trying to figure out how to steal information. You can combat pop-up malvertising by keeping your Android phone updated and by taking care to shut down any suspicious pop-ups that appear in your browser.
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