(See also slide show under images)
CHATTANOOGA, Tennessee -(WDEF) Computer hackers are posing as state, federal and even international law enforcement to steal your money.
Many people may not have heard of the ransom virus but they should. It's a nasty malware that not only hijacks your computer but holds it for ransom by not allowing the computer user to access the internet, desktop and even personal files.
When a ransom virus attacks, the screen will switch to an official looking Department of Justice FBI site with you computer IP address, name and in some cases a photo of the computer owner or operator if the a webcam is enabled. There will also be a case number assigned to the IP address with a warning that reads,' you have 72 hours to pay a fine or you will be arrested.' It will also tell you that you're in violation of several statutes that pertain to illegally downloading copy written material, pornography or software and that you could be imprisoned for up to 12 years.
"If you see an official Department of Justice FBI logo, your thinking oh wait, I did something wrong," said computer repairman Devin Cho of Angry Squirre Computers and Graphics
The site will tell you that if you pay the fine which ranged between $200 and $400 within the next 72 hours, your computer will be unlocked and no criminal charges will be filed. It even goes as far as to explain how to use a credit card or a paysafe card
to pay the fine electronically.
It sounds legit but it's a scam.
"Anytime you see something like this where it literally states you have to pay to unlock your computer, it's a fraud and a scam," said Cho.
A scam that is not only working but working very well enough to rake in $5 million a year according to security experts who are tracking the people who are uploading the virus.
Cho said even though the site may say your computer will be unlocked when you pay the money, it never happens and now the hackers have access to both your personal files as well as your money.
"If you do fall for this virus and you put a credit card number in there they will have your credit card number and they can just wreck havoc on your finances," Cho said.
Not everyone falls for the scam but there is one demographic that will always be an easy target.
"Senior citizens are certainly ones that are victims and are often more susceptible and easier to fall for that type of thing," said Better Business Bureau president Jim Winsett.
So how does one avoid the ransom virus?
"Do not download anything for free like free music, games, software or screen savers because anything with a 'free' in there should be taken with a grain of salt," said Cho.
He also suggests using search engines that are reputable like Google
Once the virus is in your computer, you have two options to correct the problem; either download recovery software from a clean computer to a disk or flash drive then insert it into the infected computer and follow the instructions or take the computer to a repair shop.
There are pros and cons to both solutions.Cons to doing it yourself:
Pros to doing it yourself:
- Recovery software that you download may in itself be malware and may actually do more harm to you computer hard drive which would result in a trip to the local computer repair shop.
- If you don't properly follow the instructions you may risk damaging the computer.
Cons to taking your infected computer to a repair shop:
- If you know what you're doing, you can save yourself hundreds of dollars that you would have spent at a repair shop.
Pros to taking you infected computer to a repair shop:
- Be prepared to spend anywhere from $50 to $250 to get the virus off your computer
- Be prepared to spend a lot of cash on a new hard drive plus reinstallation of programs you lost if the virus totally killed your computer.
- Even if the virus is professionally removed, there is no guarantee the money you spent will keep the computer from having other problems that was caused by the virus.
- Letting an expert deal with the headache of removing the virus
- Knowing a computer expert is fully aware of the various types of computer threats and how to remove them from the computer without causing further damage.