7 ON YOUR SIDE

FBI 'ransomware' scam infecting thousands of computers nationwide

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Computer security experts are warning users about a fast-moving scam that could potentially scare you into giving up fairly large amounts of money.

A new computer virus that experts call "ransomware" is being used by thieves to essentially lock down your computer. When infected, a targeted computer says that it has been locked down by the FBI, then demands a sum of money to release the lock.

The infection has hit numerous users nationwide, including Waldorf resident Cordelia Henderson, who says the virus demanded $200 to release her computer.

"When you first see the emblem on there from the FBI, it looks real," Henderson said. "They say if you don't pay it within two days, you'll have the FBI at your house, knocking on your door and taking you to court."

Worse yet, once you pony up the cash to get your computer unlocked, nothing happens, according to Kevin Haley, the head of security for Norton by Symantec.

"We are seeing a large number of infections in the United States," Haley said via Skype. "We estimate the people behind this are making $5 million a year off it."

In fact, Symantec officials say that one group used a similar scheme to dupe 68,000 people in a single month to pay up.

Fortunately for Henderson, she didn't pay the "ransom," but still will have to pay a technician to fix the computer, which is used by her daughter for her schoolwork.

"It continuously shuts down," she said. "If you turn it on, you can't bypass what they've put on it."

Experts say that the best way to guard yourself against viruses like this is to have updated anti-virus software on your machine. You should also stick to reputable websites and refrain from downloading attachments from emails sent from people you don't know.

Above all, if your computer gets infected by ransomware, don't actually pay the ransom. It won't fix anything.

In the meantime, you can get software to guard yourself against this scam here.

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