A computer virus called "ransomware" is hitting computer users with pop-up messages which claim to be from the FBI, threatening a fine or prison time unless they pay up.
The virus locks-up your computer, holding it hostage, thus its name: "ransomware."
Computer users get virus by clicking on malicious links in emails and messages sent through Facebook and Twitter, or by visiting compromised websites. From there, a notice like this appears:
"Your PC is blocked due to the illegal viewing or distribution of copyrighted content. To unblock the computer, you must pay the fine of $100."
People who have been hit by ransomware report seeing different versions of these warning messages; some ask for larger amounts of money and some claim to be from local police or the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). However, all of these messages are fraudulent.
Users are told they need to pay a certain amount of money through a pre-paid and hard-to-trace Green Dot MoneyPak cash card. If they don't pay-up, the message threatens a permanent computer lockup and possible criminal charges.
The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota says it's true that computer users will remain locked out until they get expert help, but there's no legitimate threat of legal action.
"This scam, like so many scams, operates on fear and confusion," said Dana Badgerow, BBB president and CEO. "Faced with supposed large fines or the threat of investigation by the FBI, it's easy to see why people follow these bogus instructions."
TIPS TO AVOID RANSOMWARE
Make sure your computer has the most recent updates installed for spam filters, anti-virus and anti-spyware software and a secure firewall.
Avoid questionable websites and don't click on any suspicious links.
Be aware that social networks are used to transmit and spread this virus and others like it.
It's also a good idea to keep all your files backed up. If your computer becomes infected by ransomware, you should contact a computer expert or repair firm immediately and file a complaint with the FBI at ic3.gov.