December 05, 2012

A tricky new computer virus is making the rounds, and infected users see pop-up messages which claim to be from the FBI and threaten people with a fine or prison unless they pay up. The virus, meanwhile, locks up your computer, holding it - and you - 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. From there, a notice like the one below 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.

BBB Serving western VA is offering some tips on how to avoid ransomware and advice on what to do if you become the next victim. The FBI has issued an alert concerning this scam as well,

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 requested amounts via a prepaid Green Dot MoneyPak cash card - which are difficult to trace - or they will be locked out of their computers permanently and face possible criminal charges. While it's true that computer users will remain locked out until they get expert help, the threat of legal action is nothing more than a bluff.

"This scam, like so many scams, operates on fear and confusion," said Julie Wheeler, President & CEO of BBB serving Western VA. "Faced with supposed large fines or the threat of investigation by the FBI, it's easy to see why people follow these bogus instructions. We're telling people not to fall into that trap." “Most recently a consumer told us he received a call from a computer monitoring company and that he had viruses on his computer; unfortunately he allowed them access to run a “diagnostic”. When the consumer refused the offer to buy protective software for $200, he was locked out of his computer.

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 - to restore functionality and remove any lurking malware. However, the BBB is advising people not to pay the scammers. Computer security experts are confident that paying the scammers will not get your computer unfrozen. In fact, some believe that might just open the door to increased demands. People should also ignore any requests to provide personal or financial information.

To avoid ransomware, consumers should:

· Never trust an unsolicited call about computer security. Do not give out personal information to a stranger and never give a stranger access to your computer. Ask for a call back number and specific company information. Verify the company is legitimate and the caller is truly employed by the business.

· 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.

· 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

If you need more information, contact the BBB at (540) 342-3455 or (800) 533-5501. You can also visit Follow us on Twitter at