One of the pitfalls Web surfers are bound to encounter are the hideous advertisements that are created to look like official Windows messages.
If you've surfed the Web at all, then you've seen them; they look like regular Windows dialogue boxes complete with the red, round X that denotes a Windows error and an ominous message like "Your system is dangerously low on resources" or "Your system is unprotected and is open to hackers."
Usually, these messages (after alarming you that something is wrong) will invite you to click what looks like a normal Windows button to resolve the problem. What happens when you click it? Nine out of 10 times, you are brought to a Web site selling some type of optimization or security software.
To make this tactic even more insidious, the messages usually will have the three standard buttons on the top, right-hand corner - you know, the Minimize, Restore and Close buttons. The deceptive part of including those three buttons within the ad is that they do NOT minimize, restore or close the ad! Usually, those buttons are a part of the advertisement and clicking "Close" (or any of the other buttons) will give you the same result as if you had clicked the fake "OK" button. Arghh! It's infuriating.
I once encountered a Web ad that was promoting some type of security software. The text of the ad said something like this: "Internet hackers are a menace that can infiltrate your computer and YOU ARE NOT PROTECTED; click here to see just what kind of information hackers can see about your computer." Then there was a link, and when I clicked it, up popped a window displaying the contents of my hard drive. Wow, I thought to myself. I wonder how many people are falling for this one? And then I proceeded to look at the source code (the underlying code that makes up a Web page) to see how they performed that trick. What I found was that they had crafted a simple link that just calls up the user's hard drive. Nothing really wrong with that; you'd get the same results typing c:\ into the address bar of your browser and clicked "Go," but to craft it into an alarming message just to sell software? That's low.
It's amazing these companies don't get sued out of existence for deceptive advertising. What's even worse is most of the software advertised in those fake "Windows" ads is garbage anyways that is more apt to slow your machine down than to help it.
OK, enough of my rant this week on unscrupulous advertisers. Now let's go over a few things to look for so you won't get suckered into clicking on an ad thinking it's a Windows message.
First thing to understand is if you are on the Web with Internet Explorer, Firefox, AOL's Browser, Google Chrome, Opera or any of the other Web browsers out there and you come across a message that looks like a Windows message (has the same title bar, minimize restore and close button and generally looks like a message that Windows occasionally spits out) there is a strong chance that it's an ad, and if you click it you will be, in effect, answering that ad and be whisked away from what you were doing to look at a sales pitch.
The second thing to remember is you can always see where you are going when you are about to click something online by looking at the status bar at the bottom of your browser window. When you hold your mouse over a link in your Web browser, the URL or address where that link will take you is shown in the status bar before you click. If it is a genuine windows message, no address will appear in the status bar!
So, the next time you're online and you run across a "Windows message" telling you that you have a message waiting, or your system is not secure, take a look at the status bar as you hold your mouse button over the message's "Close" button; does an address appear in the status bar? If it does, you're looking at an ad, and feel free to click if you want to look at an ad. Or, you could do what I do and grit my teeth and ignore it.
Sean McCarthy fixes computers. He can be reached at (772) 408-0680 or help@ComputeThisOnline.com (no hyphens).