Scammers ‘hold computers for ransom’ in growing malware threat

What have you been looking at online? Anything you wouldn’t want to mention in mixed company? Maybe you or someone else clicked something embarrassing by mistake? You probably haven’t done anything wrong online, but most computer users are just unsure enough about their Internet clicks to be nervous.

Scammers are counting on that.

Even if you haven’t surfed any embarrassing sites, you are at risk of a growing malware threat called “ransomware.” If your computer becomes infected with a ransomware virus, it will be locked and a message will pop up, claiming to be from the FBI, accusing you of accessing illegal material. The message demands a payment be sent in order to unlock your computer and comes with instructions on how to obtain cards to wire money — purportedly to the FBI, but actually to the scammers.

The popup may include the address of a legal, but embarrassing website you visited, in order to be more convincing. If it doesn’t find anything, it may just list an embarrassing-looking website it chooses at random. Some ransomware viruses reportedly hijack your computer’s webcam and take a photo.

The scam is not restricted to PC users. The Internet Crime Complaint Center reported on July 18 that a ransomware scheme is now being seen on Macintosh computers running OSX.

If you get one of these viruses, don’t immediately believe it and pay the scammers. Research the problem from another computer to find a fix, or call a computer repair company. It’s a pretty good rule of thumb that any email or online government notice is a scam, especially if it doesn’t include your name in the notice.