BBB Says Beware of 'Ransomware' on Your Computer

Aggressive computer viruses continue to make the rounds, causing unlucky computer users to see messages which threaten people with fines or prison unless they pay up. These viruses encrypt - lock up - files on affected computers, holding them hostage, hence its name: ransomware. These viruses are spread through malicious links in emails or by visiting compromised websites. Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota ® (BBB) offers tips on how to avoid ransomware and also advice on what to do if your computer is affected by it.

People who have been victimized by ransomware report seeing different versions of ransom demands; some ask for differing amounts of money and some have claimed 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 debit cards or Bitcoin (a virtual currency) or they will be locked out of their computers permanently. In some cases, people have even been threatened with arrest. However, these messages are all fraudulent.

“This scam is both insidious and, unfortunately, effective,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “Encrypting users’ files or locking screens to make computers inaccessible gives scammers a lot of leverage. Even so, the FBI is advising consumers not to pay these ransoms and we advise the same.”

People with infected computers should have the issue addressed as quickly as possible. It will likely take a computer repair expert or firm – one that’s been researched first at bbb.org – to restore functionality and remove any lurking malware. However, while computers may be fixable, in many cases encrypted files are not recoverable. It’s always a good idea to back up your files on a regular basis.

The FBI recently issued a warning that scammers are now utilizing a tactic called “drive-by” ransomware, which is generally transmitted by deceptive emails or pop-up windows. In some of these cases, scammers are pressuring victims to pay ransom with Bitcoin. This form of payment has become increasingly popular for scammers because of how difficult it can be to trace.

One of the newest versions of ransomware is CryptoWall. Victims are infected with CryptoWall by clicking on links in malicious emails that appear to be from legitimate businesses and through compromised advertisements on popular websites. Another growing problem is ransomware that locks down mobile phones. Just as with computers, it’s important to avoid questionable websites when surfing the Internet on your smartphone.

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 be lured in by pop-up windows.
• Don’t open attachments in unsolicited emails, even if they come from people you know and trust. Better to be safe than sorry.
• Be aware that social networks are used to transmit and spread this virus and others like it.
• Use the same precautions on your smartphone as you would on your computer when surfing the internet
• Watch out for scams disguised as apps. Be sure to download apps through the official Apple App or Google Play Stores. Stay clear of discontinued apps and make sure to read the user reviews.

If your computer or smartphone becomes infected by viruses of this nature, contact a tech expert immediately and file a complaint with the FBI at ic3.gov.