Aggressive computer viruses continue to make the rounds, causing unlucky computer users to see pop-up messages which sometimes threaten people with a fine or prison unless they pay up. These viruses, meanwhile, lock up affected computers, holding them hostage, thus its name: “ransomware.” Computer users pick up this virus by clicking on malicious links in emails and messages sent through social media sites, or by visiting compromised websites. Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) offers tips on how to avoid ransomware and advice on what to do if you become the next victim.
“This scam is insidious and, unfortunately, effective,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “Encrypting users’ files or making computers inaccessible gives scammers a lot of leverage. Still, we advise people not to pay these criminals.”
People who have been hit by ransomware report seeing different versions of ransom demands; some ask for larger amounts of money and some claim to be from the FBI, local police or the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Users are told they need to pay requested amounts via prepaid Green Dot MoneyPak cash cards – or Bitcoin – or they will be locked out of their computers permanently and face possible criminal charges. In some cases, people have even been threatened with arrest. However, all of these messages are fraudulent.
People with infected computers will want to have the issue addressed as quickly as possible. It will likely take a computer repair expert or firm – one that’s been checked out first at bbb.org – to restore functionality and remove any lurking malware. However, while computers may be restored, in many cases encrypted files are not recoverable. It’s always a good idea to back up your files on a regular basis.
A newer version of this virus is called CryptoLocker, which targets computers running versions of Windows. CryptoLocker is usually spread via compromised email messages or through social media. People who receive such emails are usually asked to open a PDF document or a ZIP file. This, in turn, launches the CryptoLocker virus, which basically locks you out of your own computer.
To avoid ransomware, consumers should:
- Make sure their 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 – even if they’re sent by a friend or loved one.
- Be aware that social networks are used to transmit and spread this virus and others like it.
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.
The mission of the Better Business Bureau is to be the leader in building marketplace trust by promoting, through self-regulation, the highest standards of business ethics and conduct, and to instill confidence in responsible businesses through programs of education and action that inform, assist and protect the general public. We are open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Contact the BBB at bbb.org or 651-699-1111, toll-free at 1-800-646-6222.