The FBI issued a public service announcement about how cyber criminals are impersonating advertisements. The scam works like this: the scammer pays for an ad but the ad they post impersonates a real business. When a person does a search, for maybe a piece of software, the fake ad comes up. If the person clicks it thinking it’s legitimate, they’re directed to a fake website having a similar domain to the real company and any software they download from there will be malware. Besides impersonation software companies, this scam is being used to impersonate financial institutions to steal login information or financial information. Unlike phishing scams, these aren’t coming through email, text or phone calls, rather they show up when you do a search or are visiting websites that have advertisements.

Protecting Yourself and Your Business

The FBI recommends individuals take the following precautions:

  • Before clicking on an advertisement, check the URL to make sure the site is authentic. A malicious domain name may be similar to the intended URL but with typos or a misplaced letter.
  • Rather than search for a business or financial institution, type the business’s URL into an internet browser’s address bar to access the official website directly.
  • Use an ad blocking extension when performing internet searches. Most internet browsers allow a user to add extensions, including extensions that block advertisements. These ad blockers can be turned on and off within a browser to permit advertisements on certain websites while blocking advertisements on others.

The FBI recommends businesses take the following precautions:

  • Use domain protection services to notify businesses when similar domains are registered to prevent domain spoofing.
  • Educate users about spoofed websites and the importance of confirming destination URLs are correct.
  • Educate users about where to find legitimate downloads for programs provided by the business.

Ad Blocking

Blocking ads is controversial. On the one hand, it’s appealing because it makes websites easy to navigate and read, but on the other hand, it denies those websites ad revenue that their business may depend on. If you decide to move forward with blocking ads, you can download an ad blocking extension for your web browser. Two reputable ad blockers are uBlock Origin and Adblock Plus.

Install either ad blocker for your specific web browser(s):

Read the FBI’s full PSA here: