''Ransomware'' scaring computer users - CBS46 News

''Ransomware'' scaring computer users

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Jeannine was planning for her son's two-year-old birthday party online when all of a sudden, her computer screen changed.

"Instead of looking at Ernie and Elmo, I am faced with what reported to be the seal of the FBI and with that was a warning or a message. It said that I had committed several federal offenses, I was subject to fines and mandatory imprisonment," she said.

The long time attorney admits she panicked.

"I was horrified and that's an understatement. The thought of having my bar card torn away from me. The thought of me sitting in jail, what is going to happen to my kids, my husband," Jeannine questioned.

After the initial shock, Jeannine knew there was something strange when she saw a payment option at the bottom of the site for $300.

"In order to "unfreeze" your computer, it usually involves going out to a Walgreens, Wal-Mart and buying a prepaid card; most often a Green Dot card or a MoneyGram card and then sending that information to the people who control this," explained US Postal Inspector Dave Reardon.

He said in some cases there are blatant messages that your computer has been locked with instructions on how to unlock it and send a payment.

"This is a home invasion and they have broken into your home and they have done it electronically and if we're not careful they will be able to get to the exact same things we're trying to protect with an alarm system on our house," Reardon said.

When you set up a computer, always create two user accounts so if one way is blocked by con artists you have a second entryway.

That is why Jeannine was able to regain control of her computer, but many others haven't been as lucky.

"If you're scared enough and you don't understand it's a scam you're going to lose your money is gone," she said.

Experts say the most important thing for ransomware victims is to not pay the cyber criminals any money. You need to go to another computer and search for a solution. All anti virus companies post free instructions and utilities to help users unblock their computers.

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