Symantec’s SMB director for the Pacific Region Steve Martin says crooks duped millions of customers into buying fake security software. And the middlemen peddling the dodgy wares have grown fat on the proceeds.

At best the programs do nothing to protect computers from viruses and other threats. Some of the fraudulent applications on offer contain malicious code which gives crooks access to data or worse.

Martin warns the companies selling these programs online have plausible-sounding sales pitches. In some cases they place advertising with Google and other ad networks. But more often visitors to web sites stumble across pop-ups delivering what looks like a legitimate message telling people their web site security needs updating.

Perhaps the most frightening aspect of the scam is the way people are lead to a safe-looking payment page asking for credit card and other details. Many unwitting consumers who have handed over these details find their private information is then passed on to other crooks who can extract more money from their accounts.

Symantec’s warning stems from an internally produced study report on rogue computer software.

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