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Scareware victims seldom fight back

Too embarrassed or too ignorant?

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Victims of rogue anti-virus scams rarely attempt to claw back fraudulent credit card payments for worthless software packages, according to new research.

Security blogger Brian Krebs contacted victims of scareware scams after coming into possession of a list of users duped into buying rogue anti-virus packages. The data came from caches of data maintained by rogue anti-virus affiliates, a key sales channel for scareware developers. The information included the amounts charged to victims (between $50-$100) and partially obscured credit card numbers, as well as the names, addresses and email contact details of scareware clients.

In one case only 367 out of more than 2,000 victims disputed the charge with either their banks or scammers. Payments in this mid-April campaign were made to either Browsing Solutions, Moscow, or EBD-Software.com. A second campaign pulled in 1,600 marks, only one in 10 of whom challenged charges.

Krebs contacted several victims directly. One unwittingly bought rogue anti-virus while searching for legitimate security software and didn't realise he'd bought scareware until Krebs got in touch. Another US victim told Krebs that he knew he'd been victimised but didn't contest the charge because he was too embarrassed to admit he'd been taken for a ride.

Victims told Krebs that they decided to buy scareware packages after their machines became unusable. The hijacking program appeared to disappear after they made a purchase.

Krebs added that even the minority of victims who realised they'd been conned got anywhere when they complained to their banks. "None of the victims I was able to track down had successfully reversed the charges with their credit card provider, although a few did have the charges canceled after contacting the phone number listed in the customer support e-mail," Krebs writes.

"Some said they had tried to contact their credit card provider or the scam company but got the runaround and simply gave up."

Purveyors of rogue anti-virus are growing more sophisticated in their approach to doing business, which partly involves preventing victims from raising a stink. Some scareware scammers have even begun to offer live support.

Kasperky's Nicolas Brulez has written up his experiences with a scareware support agent (which turned out to be almost certainly a real person based in the Ukraine, and not a bot) in an interesting blog post here.

As well as avoiding chargeback rogue anti-virus firms also attempt to generate sales in the first place, of course. One group of chancers even went as far as buying ads on Google so that one of the sponsored ads for searches on the term "malware" pointed towards a rogue anti-virus website, Sophos reports.

The approach is an alternative to the more traditional approach of manipulating search results for newsworthy subjects so that scareware scam portal appear prominently in the search results for targeted terms, a process known as black-hat SEO. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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