The FBI Says You Need to Use an Ad Blocker

You might think a blocker is just for pop-ups, but according to the feds, the bad guys are trying to ensnare you with malicious ads in search results.

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An FBI officer using a laptop.
I want to believe.
Photo: Dzelat (Shutterstock)

The Federal Bureau of Investigation took a break from hunting serial killers this week to post a public service announcement: if you’re not using an ad blocker, what are you doing?

According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, criminals are using ads in search engine results like Google and Bing to impersonate brands. These ads send unsuspecting users off to phony websites that look identical to the pages people are actually searching for, where they are then be subjected to ransomware or phishing attacks. The Bureau says an ad blocker can help.

While the government doesn’t recommend any particular ad blocker, but I just tested uBlock Origin with a few of my favorite Google searches and didn’t see a single ad in the results. An ad blocker is also a great solution if you find yourself in the comments section of this article with a bizarre impulse to complain about the ads on Gizmodo, which is a beautiful, perfect website.

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When I write about online scams, people often tell me they’re too smart to fall for them. This, unfortunately, is the kind of attitude that gets you scammed. Protecting yourself takes constant vigilance, which is undermined if you think you aren’t vulnerable. All it takes is ten seconds of oversight or even a single click to get in trouble.

To that end, the FBI recommends fail-safes like checking the URL of the page your visiting, or typing in the web address directly instead of searching it. The FBI says these scams are especially prevalent in the areas of finance or cryptocurrency. When you’re doing anything involving your money online, that’s a time to be extra careful.

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It’s also worth paying attention to when you’re clicking on an ad versus an actual search result. This is an increasingly annoying prospect, as services like Google work hard to make their ads look like regular search results, and often fill up the entire first screen of results with ads, making you scroll down to find what’s actually relevant.

If you do fall victim to a scam, the FBI wants to hear about it. Anyone who wants to talk to the feds can report the crime to your local FBI field office, or directly to the Internet Crime Complaint Center.