Alerts Newsletter

Scam of the Month: Windows Defender Pop-ups

The Office of Information Security has observed a trend in which criminals send a fake error message on a website, saying there is a virus on your computer. These fake error messages aim to scare you into calling their “technical support hotline,” and they will likely ask you to install applications that give them remote access to your device.

If you see a message like the one below, please do not interact with the pop-up or phone number, and do not follow any special instructions. Simply call the service desk at 314-933-3333 to determine if the warning is legitimate. Please be aware of the following tips for recognizing these types of tech support scams.

Windows Defender Security Center pop-up scam screenshot.
  1. Microsoft error and warning messages never include phone numbers (source). If a pop-up or error message appears with a phone number, do not call the number.
  2. If you didnt ask for support, Microsoft will not call you to offer support. “Microsoft does not send unsolicited email messages or make unsolicited phone calls to request personal or financial information, or to provide technical support to fix your computer.” (source)
  3. Microsoft will never ask you to pay for support using cryptocurrency or gift cards.

In the best-case scenario, the scammer will try to get you to pay them to “fix” a nonexistent problem with your device or software. In the worst-case scenario, they will try to steal your personal or financial information. If you allow them to remote into your computer to perform this “fix,” they will often install malware, ransomware, or other unwanted programs that can steal your information or damage your data or device. If you ever interact with a tech support scam on a WashU device, please call the service desk at 314-933-3333, email us at, or fill out our incident response form. It is always best to be cautious and report anything remotely suspicious.

Avoid this and other scams by following our ten phishing safety tips and related guidance below.

10 Phishing Safety Tips

  1. Don’t click. Instead of clicking on any link in a suspicious email, type in the URL or search for the relevant department or page. Even if a website and/or URL in an email looks real, criminals can mask its true destination.
  2. Be skeptical of urgent requests. Phishing messages often make urgent requests or demands. When you detect a tone of urgency, slow down and verify the authenticity of the sender and the request by using official channels rather than the information provided by the sender.
  3. Watch out for grammar, punctuation, and spelling mistakes. Phishing messages are often poorly written. Common hallmarks of phishing are incorrect spelling, improper punctuation, and poor grammar. If you receive an email with these problems, it may be a phishing attempt. Double-check the email address of the sender, dont follow any links, and verify the authenticity of the request using official channels.
  4. Keep your information private. Never give out your passwords, credit card information, Social Security number, or other private information through email.
  5. Pick up the phone. If you have any reason to think that a department or organization really needs to hear from you, call them to verify any request for personal or sensitive information. Emails that say “urgent!”, use pressure tactics, or prey on fear are especially suspect. Do an online search for a contact phone number or use the contact number published in the WUSTL directory.
  6. Use secure websites and pay attention to security prompts. Always check if you are on a secure website before giving out private information. You can determine whether a website is secure by looking for the “https:” rather than just “http:” in the Web address bar or for the small lock icon in the Internet browser. If your browser cannot validate the authenticity of the websites security certificate, you will be prompted. This is frequently a telltale sign of fraud, and it would be a good time to pick up the phone or report a suspicious message.
  7. Keep track of your data. Regularly log onto your online accounts and make sure that all your transactions are legitimate.
  8. Reset any account passwords that may have been compromised.
  9. Know whats happening. Visit the Office of Information Security Alerts page often.
  10. Report it.If you are a victim of an email scam, report it to our office by using the Phish Alert Button (PAB). When you report a phishing attack, we will investigate it and, if necessary, remove other instances of the attack from our systems. Reporting the attack will help protect others and our institution.

Additional Resources

Phishing | Office of Information Security | Washington University in St. Louis
Phishing 101 | Office of Information Security | Washington University in St. Louis

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