In the last year, online gaming has skyrocketed for pre-teens, thanks to popular socially-driven games like Minecraft.  Unfortunately, it has also caused an influx in repeat customers for spyware & virus removal, thanks to “scammy” popups promising free game help, tokens, and other enhanced features to games.  While having a good, updated antivirus program is a start, it won’t stop ads and popups from continually tweaking their settings to avoid the virus scanners, thus continuing the cycle.  Microsoft offers some suggestions to make the experience for school-aged kids a little less problematic for your pocketbook, if nothing else:

1.  Stick to well-known games from trusted sites.  Sticking to games that are from MSN, Yahoo, AOL, Nickelodeon, etc, are typically safer.

2.  Use a safe browser.  Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox are typically considered safer than Internet Explorer because of the built in popup protection they offer.

3.  Go directly to the game address, don’t google search for it.  Google Searching is often misleading, and searching for “play Minecraft online” leads virus and spyware-laden links as the first couple of results.  If need be, help kids determine how to link to and or bookmark their favorite games.

4.  Create anonymous usernames.  Ensure things like the child’s name, school name, age, or other unique identifiers aren’t used as the username.

5.  Help kids understand what popups are- and when not to click on them.  The banners on the top and side of the screen usually scream to kids to “click here” to play a different game or link to a different site.  Help them notice when links take them to another domain and encourage they NEVER click on those ads.

In addition, doing a periodic check of the history on your browser, and ensuring that no new programs have “magically appeared” on your desktop are a good reminders, as is making sure that your antivirus is downloading updates and protecting against attacks using real-time scanning.  Using popular trusted programs like Malwarebytes in addition to your virus scanner are also good practices.  If all else fails, make sure that as soon as you start seeing suspicious activity on the machine that it is cleaned by a trusted professional as soon as possible to prevent more malicious programs from gaining access to your machine.

For more safe-online practices, see Microsoft’s suggestions here: