LITTLE ROCK, AR -- Computer crooks recently held Jim McGrath's computer for ransom. While searching online, his computer froze, and a warning popped up demanding he pay $60 for a program to get rid of a virus.
"I felt I was being scammed into buying a virus program that I didn't need because I already had virus programs and I couldn't even run a scan on my own virus program," said McGrath.
Experts say Jim was hit by a ransom scheme. Cyber crooks are manipulating search engines, so their tainted web links pop up in your results. If you click on it, viruses can invade your computer.
"You will be infected and you won't even know it," said security expert Chris Larsen.
Computer users are three times more likely to get a tainted link from a search engine, than in an email.
"People do trust the search engines and they are predisposed to click on whatever they see in the results," said Larsen.
Blue Coat found bad guys don't only target people searching for top news stories or adult content. But they may also try to lure users to their links while you search common topics like health and medical information, and samples of business and professional letters.
They also attack seasonal searches like holiday recipes, decorations, and costume ideas.
"Search engine algorithms have been designed partially to prevent cyber criminals from doing this kind of behavior," said technology expert Chris Boggs.
But the websites are fighting back.
Google.com managers say, "We've built and refined tools over many years to keep malicious content out of our search results."
Bing.com tells FOX16, "We are actively working on new filtering techniques for Image search where the majority of these malicious links were found."
To avoid the poison links, take these steps.
1.Look at web site address endings. Experts say "dot-com's" and "dot-net's" are usually safe. But if it ends in something you've never heard of, like "dot cx" or "dot tf" , you may want to avoid those.
2.If the text under the link looks garbled--don't click on it.
3.Teach your kids about how to avoid poisonous links when they search.
4.Always make sure you have good, up to date anti virus and malware programs running on your computer.