Cracked software may be cheap or free but it could cost you big time: Internet Scambusters #983
Some computer apps and programs are so expensive, it's tempting to fall for the lure of cracked software, which has been hacked and may cost you next to nothing.
That's how the process starts. But it could end up wrecking your computer and even landing you in jail.
We'll explain why in this week's issue and show you what you should be doing instead.
Let's get started…
Don't Fall for the Money-Saving Lure of Cracked Software
Think you've found a bargain price for that expensive app or software you need? Like most other too-good-to-be-true deals, it's probably a scam. Not only that, but if you use it, you could be breaking the law.
We're talking about so-called "cracked" software -- an app that has been cracked open to remove its protection so that anyone can use or copy it, sometimes without paying a cent.
The Internet is teeming with the stuff. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of websites dedicated to cracks.
You might think it's worth a try, but don't even go there.
Here's one reason why: When you buy cracked software, you're often advised to switch off your Internet security app to enable you to install it. This sometimes happens with genuine software, so it's hard to spot the ruse.
If and when you do, you have nothing to protect you from the malware that can be hidden inside the modified software.
Furthermore, you might not even get the app you're trying to get on the cheap or for free. In a malware storm that's raging on the Internet right now, crooks are using an evil tactic where they may not supply even a cracked program; they just install a bit of code called Mosaic Loader, which unlocks access to your PC.
While it's being installed, it mimics the real program misguided downloaders are trying to get, even using the same file and folder structure. That means victims won't discover what's happened until it's too late!
Before they know it, every bit of confidential data on a PC could be stolen, or the machine will be locked into a network of computers used for sending out spam or other malware.
In other words, your system will be cracked open too.
Security researchers believe a global team of hackers behind the current onslaught plans to break into as many computers as possible, as fast as possible, and then actually sell access to other crooks and scammers via the black market (the "Dark Web").
In one case, reported by security firm Sophos, an overseas company is reputedly offering $5 for each link to compromised PCs.
In a "refinement" of the scam, the malware actually produces a pop-up warning of infection, with a "help" link that actually leads to even more malware disguised as a removal tool.
This is dangerous stuff. What might have started out as an attempt to get something for nothing could prove to be a horrendously expensive mistake.
Here are three ways to avoid getting caught up in this minefield.
First, don't buy dirt-cheap versions of expensive software. It's probably a scam, but even if it works and isn't infected, it won't be supported by the developer, you can't troubleshoot it, and it could damage your operating system.
Plus, it may also be illegal, even when the crack site says it's not. You can face fines of up to $250,000 or even get jail time if you pass it to someone else.
Don't even search for cracked software. If you Google the term, you'll see pages and pages of crack sites, often offering links to the Top 10 sources. You have absolutely no way of knowing what they're up to.
Second, be ultra-cautious about switching off your security software before installing any program, especially downloaded or cut-price software.
Instead, create a restore point on a Windows PC and try the installation with your security program intact. If it doesn't work, the restore point will enable you to backtrack.
If you really must suspend your security, do it for as little time as possible and then run a scan immediately after the installation.
And third, if the software you want is too expensive, look for an alternative, not a crack. For example, there are half a dozen legitimate and free or low-cost word-processing programs that, for most people, perform just as well as full-cost ones and offer compatibility with their expensive cousins.
According to the Digital Citizens Alliance, one third of illegal and cracked software is infected with viruses, Trojans, adware, and spyware. Those are frightening odds. Just don't put yourself at risk; stick with the real thing.
Alert of the Week
We reported recently about scams associated with DNA testing: This Fraudulent DNA Test Could Cost You $10,000.
In a new trick, con artists are phoning Medicare recipients claiming their cardiologist has ordered a test to establish their susceptibility to heart disorders.
Victims may well receive a swabbing kit but, in return, they have to provide their Medicare details. These are then used either for identity theft or to fraudulently bill Medicare.
Talk directly to your cardiologist or other health professional before considering any type of gene test.
That's it for today -- we hope you enjoy your week!