The Investigators

Feb 5, 2013 12:42 PM by Sarah Arevalo

'Ransom scam' targets your computer with pop-ups

The Cochise County Sheriff's Office is investigating three cases that were reported in the past two weeks of a "ransom scam."

This scam had been around for awhile, but recently resurfaced in metropolitan areas. This scam is known as ransomware, which includes a malware virus into your computer that creates significant issues for the victim.

These scams began with random pop-ups on your computer screen. In the past year, hundreds of thousands of people across the world have switched on their computers to find distressing messages alerting them that they no longer have access to their PCs or any of the files on them, according to a news report from California.

This scams claim to be from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and possibly 20 other law enforcement agencies across the globe. The computer users are told that the only way to get their machines back is to pay a steep fine. Sadly, this scam is working reportedly making more than $5 million a year, according to computer security experts who are tracking them.

This scam infects a user's computer with a virus that locks it. The attackers demand money before the computer will be unlocked, but once the money is paid, they rarely unlock it.

Usually users do not regain access to their computers, unless they hire a computer technician to remove the virus manually. And even then, they risk losing all files and data because the best way to remove the virus is to wipe the computer clean.

"As opposed to fooling you, criminals are now bullying users into paying them by pretending the cops are banging down their doors," said Kevin Haley, Symantec's director of security response.

One of the alarming things about ransomware is that criminals can use victims' machines however they like. While the computer is locked, the criminals can steal passwords and even get into the victims' online bank accounts.

Security experts warn to never pay the ransom. A number of vendors offer solutions for unlocking machines without paying the ransom. The best solution is to visit a local repair shop to wipe the machine clean and reinstall backup files and software.

As always, Sheriff Dannels encourages our citizens, "Don't be a victim" and report anything of a suspicious nature to your local law enforcement agencies.

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