Taking Back the ID

Avoiding fake AI online ads and confronting malware problems

Using a computer these days is fraught with fraud risks. That ad about artificial intelligence may be interesting, but a click on the wrong website and you could be hacked. Here are some tips to avoid malware and having your personal identifying information stolen.

John Walker, a self-proclaimed computer geek, searched numerous sites to keep current on artificial intelligence (AI). He clicked on an online ad for AI tools on a social media site but found little information that piqued his interest. However, later that week he went online to check his bank account and discovered that his balance was wiped out. The fake AI ad had loaded malware onto his device.

This fictitious case represents a real problem that’s hitting many computer users curious about new AI software. When victims click on bogus AI ads, downloaded malware steals their personal identifying information (PII), such as usernames and passwords, bank account numbers or Social Security numbers. [See “Ads for fake AI and other software spread malicious software,” by Alvaro Puig, U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Consumer Advice, April 13, 2023.]

Some malicious ads take victims to real software but download malware through a “backdoor” so victims don’t know they were hacked. Fraudsters can also access victims’ contact lists so they can swindle others.

According to the FTC, here are ways to avoid these scams:

  • Don’t click on ads to download software. Instead, type in the name of the supposed website to test its veracity.
  • If you search for a supposed website address, don’t click on the top searches, possibly labeled “Ad” or “Sponsored,” because scammers often pay for those spots. Scroll way down on the list for a reliable URL.
  • Malicious ads might evade antivirus software, but still ensure your device’s security software, operating system and internet browser are up to date. And turn on automatic updates to keep up with latest protections.

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