The MacKeeper Scam: What It Is and How to Protect Yourself From It

What to do when MacKeeper suddenly appears on your computer

MacKeeper is an all-in-one kind of program designed to protect computers and laptops running macOS from viruses, malware, and adware in addition to increasing system performance and security.

While the MacKeeper program itself is legitimate, it has been accused of scamming users into paying for upgrades, leaking user data, and is frequently bundled with malware and adware which can result in it being installed on devices without the user knowing.

What Is the MacKeeper Scam?

Is MacKeeper safe? Well, it’s widely considered to be safe nowadays but this wasn’t always the case. In December 2015, the usernames, passwords, and other information of over 13 million users were leaked online and, while this issue was quickly resolved, many are still wary of trusting MacKeeper with their data. This was more of a flaw than a malicious scam, however.

A conceptual illustration of a mackeeper scammer.
Lifewire / Theresa Chiechi

What many people consider to an actual scam committed by MacKeeper, though, was the program’s tendency to trick users into signing up for a paid upgrade once the free version was installed. This issue was exacerbated by the MacKeeper affiliate program whose high commissions encouraged third-parties to bundle the free version of MacKeeper in malware packages in an attempt to get as many people as possible to unintentionally install the program and then be misled into upgrading.

Zeobit, the original creators of MacKeeper who had been accused of the above suspect business practices, sold the program to Kromtech Alliance Corp in 2013. While still not without its critics, MacKeeper is significantly more legitimate nowadays than it was under Zeobit.

How Does the MacKeeper Scam Work?

The MacKeeper scam usually involves the free version of the program being installed on a user’s desktop computer or laptop without their knowledge via malware or adware when connected to the internet.

The official MacKeeper program itself isn’t a virus or a form of malware though it may be distributed along with a malware download. There is no MacKeeper virus.

Once installed, MacKeeper will begin displaying warning messages that imply that the device is compromised or insecure and that the only way to fix it is to purchase the full version of the software.

How Do the MacKeeper Scammers Find Victims?

The MacKeeper program is usually downloaded and installed in the background after a device is exposed to malware or adware when surfing the internet. It can also be bundled with another program and activated during that program’s installation process.

A man checking the MacKeeper website on his Macbook.
Prykhodov/iStockEditorial/GettyImagesPlus

How Do I Avoid Getting Involved in This Scam?

The best way to protect yourself from the MacKeeper scam is to frequently check that your Mac’s operating system and apps are up-to-date. This will reduce your exposure to malware, adware, and viruses and should prevent MacKeeper and other such programs from downloading and seemingly appearing out of nowhere on your device.

Due to the rise in fake or scam websites, it’s also important to only install programs and apps from their official web page or the Mac App Store and to be wary of popup advertisements that are trying to mimic system warning messages.

I’m Already a Victim. What Should I Do?

If you’ve discovered the MacKeeper program on your computer and you have no memory of ever having installed it, it’s natural to ask yourself “Is MacKeeper legit?” and try to uninstall it. Fortunately, there are several strategies for how to get rid of MacKeeper and delete all of its associated files.

If MacKeeper has installed itself on your device, it’s likely that you’ve been exposed to malware or a virus. After removing MacKeeper, make sure to perform a system update, update your apps, and do a scan for any suspicious activity.

If you or someone you know has been tricked into signing up for the MacKeeper monthly or annual membership fee, you can cancel your subscription and even request a refund by filling in this form on the official MacKeeper website.

Previously, the large number of MacKeeper signup scams actually resulted in a lawsuit against the original MacKeeper creators, Zeobit, which was settled in August 2015. Users who bought the full version of MacKeeper before July 8th 2015 are eligible for compensation and should contact Kromtech Alliance, the new owners, here.

If you think that you've been the target of a more elaborate scam, you may want to file a report with the authorities and take further actions to secure your personal data.

How Do I Avoid Being Targeted for the MacKeeper Scam?

Due to MacKeeper’s affiliate program offering payments as high as 70% for referrals, it’s incredibly common for individuals and companies to recommend MacKeeper on blogs, discussion forums, in comments sections on websites, and on social media. If you ask for a good antivirus program on Twitter or Quora, for example, you may be targeted by someone who recommends MacKeeper and provides you with a discount code or download link.

In reality, this isn’t a genuine recommendation by someone who uses MacKeeper. It’s simply an affiliate trying to make some quick money by getting you to purchase MacKeeper via their personal link.

There are also some fake websites that can look like an established app review site but are in fact a sales funnel intended to drive MacKeeper downloads. Even if a website ranks high on a search result, always check to make sure that they have an established history and good reputation before trusting what they say and only download programs from the developer’s website or via the Mac App Store.