Business Columns & Blogs

How to dodge scareware alerts

Q: I sometimes get obviously fake virus alerts invading my desktop browser, but the only option to make the box go away is to click the OK button — which I am afraid to do. Where do these things come from, and is there an easier way to get out of this besides shutting down the whole computer?

A: Fraudulent virus messages have been popping up in browsers and other parts of operating systems for years, and Windows users are not the only people getting them. The false alerts can be triggered by such actions as clicking on a malicious link, mistyping a web address that leads to a scammer’s site, landing on a page running malevolent scripts (or hosting poisoned advertisements), and other actions.

Even if a scareware alert pops up, you can dismiss it without rebooting your whole computer — just forcibly quit the browser program. On a Windows PC, hold down the Control, Alt and Delete keys to open the Task Manager app, select the browser from the list of running programs and click End Task. On a Mac, press the Option, Command and Escape keys, select the browser in the list of programs and click the Force Quit button.

If your browser is set to remember open tabs when it closes, decline the offer to open them again when the program starts. If the pop-up returns right away, going into the browser’s settings and clearing the recent history and cache may flush out lingering traces of the fake alert; resetting the browser to restore it to its original vanilla state is a further step.

Maintaining a real, regularly updated security program on your computer can keep general malicious code at bay. Malwarebytes Anti-Malware, Avast and AVG are among the companies that offer free basic security software for Windows and Mac systems, with the option to move to a more full-featured suite for a fee.

Fingerprint Failure on the iPhone

Q: The fingerprint sensor on my iPhone used to be very consistent, but it has been acting weird lately and only works some of the time — which means I have to type in my passcode instead. What might be causing this unreliability?

A: Touch ID is the fingerprint-reading system Apple includes on some of its iPhone and iPad hardware to securely unlock the screen or acknowledge mobile payments. While usually reliable, it can be stymied by factors like dry winter skin or a cut that alters your fingerprint a bit. Lotion, sweat, moisture, oils or other liquids on your hands can also disrupt fingerprint recognition on the iPhone and other smartphones.

Trying to unlock the iPhone while cooking — or just after working out in the pool or gym — may also cause Touch ID to fail because your fingertips may scan differently than how the sensor recorded them when you set up your phone. Before using Touch ID, make sure your finger is clean and dry.

You may also want to wipe down the Touch ID sensor with a microfiber cloth or other non-abrasive fabric to make sure residual oil or dirt is not interfering. When you put your finger on the sensor, make sure you are pressing both the Home button and the ring around it for full contact. Restarting the iPhone may help, especially if the Touch ID feature began to behave erratically after an iOS software update.

If you are still having fingerprint recognition issues, open the Settings app on the iPhone’s home screen, select “Touch ID & Passcode” and on the list, choose the fingerprint you first set up. Tap the “Delete Fingerprint” option to remove it. On the main Touch ID & Passcode screen, tap “Add a Fingerprint” to put a fresh copy of your fingerprint on file.

If you are still having fingerprint recognition issues, contact your nearest Apple Store or authorized service provider for a hardware checkup.