Warning: This is a Fake Warning!

Angie Halama

Recently, our IT company sent us an email alert about "scareware" messages, warning that clicking on any of these messages could install some nasty malware on our computers.

Here's what they look like:

"The text reads: Warning!!! Your computer contains various types of adware and viruses.

"Your system requires immediate anti-viruses check! Personal Antivirus will perform a quick and free scanning of your PC for viruses and malicious programs. "

"The text reads: Your computer remains infected by threats! They can cause data loss and file damage and need to be cured as soon as possible."

Graphically, these warnings look legit, like they were created with Microsoft or another professional anti-virus company, right?  It's enough to scare people into clicking immediately.

The Copy Test

Fortunately, there's a simple trick for detecting scareware: Take a look at that copy.

Do legitimate warnings ever work to inspire this much fear and urgency? Do they scream "emergency" with multiple exclamation points and words like "malicious" and "infected"?      

No. And that's what gives them away. Legit error and warning messages are rarely this exciting.

While it's not great writing, the writers of this scareware copy understand their readers and their fear of computer viruses. Many "for real" error and warning messages don’t work because the writer isn't thinking from the readers' point of view.

Pop-ups and error messages should be clear and compelling (but not frightening!). Check out these tips for writing some good ones.

The Morals of This Story

  • Think before you click.
  • Don't run scams.
  • Be nice to your reader and give them clear, actionable copy. Always.