Just remember folks, the FBI would never lock your computer via virus and demand a ransom.
By Stephen Dean
INDIANAPOLIS - A southeast Indianapolis family has fallen victim to a growing scam that tries to shame people into paying a “fine” to unfreeze their computer.
The warning messages are popping up on frozen computer screens around the globe, appearing to be a message from the FBI. The message claims a fine must be paid in order to have the computer unfrozen.
Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers were called to a family’s home on Thursday night near South Shadeland and East Washington when a 42-year-old man got home to find his computer screen locked up and frozen.
The man told officers his 13-year-old step-son had been surfing online while he and his wife were gone.
A message on the disabled computer screen looked like an official warning that the computer was frozen because someone was caught viewing child pornography, police were told.
The man who called police apparently bought it.
As a registered sex offender himself, he was likely afraid that it was real. Many registered sex offenders are required to report their current addresses and certain other events to law enforcement to avoid getting into more trouble.
However, the message was part of a growing scam that has prompted warnings to be issued by real law enforcement agencies worldwide.
The southeast Indianapolis boy told his folks he wasn’t actually looking at child pornography. He said a pop-up message flashed up on his screen as he was logged onto a World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) site.
Many of the messages popping up on computers throughout the country look like they’re coming from the FBI. With scammers constantly in search of ways to scare people to click on links that launch viruses or other malicious software, this latest effort uses the subject of child pornography in hopes that fear or shame will prompt the victim to pay up.
The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) has posted a warning on the front page of its official web site , urging people to “click here” if their computer is frozen with a demand for payment of a fine. The FBI calls it yet another attempt at crossing malicious software with a ransom demand, known as “ransomware.”
Similar tactics were reported last week targeting computer users in Germany. The AARP also warned retirees of the same sort of scam back in August.
This week’s Indianapolis family did not report paying any money to unlock their computer.
The latest “ransomware” effort, just like most other malicious software, is launched when a computer user is somehow convinced to click on a link that launches the program. Once that program is launched, the FBI said, the computer is frozen and the ransom message appears.
Scammers have employed countless tactics to fool people into launching malicious software, sometimes embedding it in popular website features or sending an e-mail that claims a certain link is something that it really isn’t.
In this week’s Indianapolis case, the 13-year-old boy said that he clicked on something on a wrestling site and was suddenly redirected to a pornography site. He said he closed it out without seeing much, but that sequence apparently allowed the malicious software to load and freeze his family’s computer with the ransom message.
The FBI warns that this latest effort encourages victims to log on and send money using Ukash or Moneypak, two online payment services that are difficult to trace.
The FBI advises victims to have the viruses removed by a reputable computer repair professional. The warning goes further, saying that once a victim clicks on links associated with the virus, bank account information and other sensitive data could be compromised long after the initial computer freezing event.