Computer crooks now have ways to target us on search engines

These days, most people have enough common sense to be cautious about opening emails from someone we don’t know and know enough not to open suspicious attachments. But now computer crooks have found a way to target us on search engines.

Jim McGrath’s computer recently was held for ransom. While searching online, his PC froze, and a warning popped up demanding he pay $60 for a program to get rid of a virus. McGrath tried for hours to get his computer unfrozen, but it would not function until he paid.

“I felt I was being scammed into buying a virus program that I didn’t need,” he said. “I already had virus programs and I couldn’t even run a scan on my own virus program.”

McGrath had been hit by a ransomware scheme. Cyber crooks are manipulating search engines so their tainted Web links pop up in your results. If you click on the link, hidden malware or viruses also can invade your computer.

“You will be infected and you won’t even know it,” Chris Larsen of Blue Coat Security explained.

Experts say computer users now are three times more likely to get a tainted link from a search engine than in an email.

According to Larsen, “People do trust the search engines and they are predisposed to click on whatever they see in the results. And because they’re not aware it could be dangerous, this turns out to be a very effective attack for the bad guys.”

To avoid tainted links, look at website address endings. Dot-com’s and dot-net’s are usually safe. But if it ends in something you’ve never heard of, like “.cx” or “.tf” you may want to avoid those. Also, if the text under the link looks garbled don’t click on it.

McGrath isn’t sure what he clicked on to launch the ransom ware. He removed the software from his PC, but wonders if it’s still lurking behind the scenes.

“I worry that they still may have access to my computer,” he admits.

Experts say if a link just doesn’t seem right, don’t click on it. Also, teach your kids about how to avoid tainted links when searching, and of course, always make sure you have good, up to date antivirus and malware programs running on your computer.

Watch Al Sunshine’s “Money Watch” reports Monday-Friday on CBS4. You may find Al’s blog at

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