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Confronted with a message like this,most computer users feel compelled to take urgent action. Fortunately,instructions for what to do are right in front of them: click on a box to scan the computer. Once the scan is complete,and dozens of infections have been identified,they must go to a security website and pay $49.99 to download software that will remove the infections and safeguard their systems.

A lot of people feel that is $49.99 well spent,” notes Paul Ducklin,head of technology,Asia Pacific,for the security firm Sophos. “They don’t realize they’ve been fleeced.”

At best,the downloaded software will have done nothing. At worst,it could conceivably be malware that could steal financial and password information,or cause the computer to distribute spam. The user has been the victim of “scareware” — bogus security software that pretends to find infections and then pretends to remove it after the user has paid for a license.

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