Terry Dent was certain that it was a scam the moment she read the warning message on her computer.
She knew she hadn’t downloaded any child pornography, this 57-year-old widow acknowledge that she is not the most computer- literate woman in the world but she is quite sure she hadn’t done any mistake. If in any case that she did, she knew the FBI wouldn’t be asking her to use a prepaid credit card to pay a $300 fine to unfreeze her computer.
“I’m not stupid,” she said. “I wasn’t going to send anyone anything.”
But the thing is other people do and will keep doing it.
According to computer security and identity theft experts, Dent’s computer was infected with a version of the Reveton virus. The virus is a popular form of “ransomware” that takes over a computer and prevents users from operating it, supposedly until they pay a fee.
The truth is the law enforcement is not involved although a lot of versions of the virus tell people their computers have been flagged by the Department of Justice or FBI.
Ransomware is rapidly being popular virus for con artists. A computer-security software firm McAfee, catalogued more ransomware in the first half of 2013 than in all previous periods combined. And according to Symantec Corporation – the software company behind the Norton AntiVirus programs – Reveton attempted to infect 500,000 computers over an 18-day period last year.
“It is absolutely the fastest-growing threat to computer users,” said Marian Merritt, a Symantec spokeswoman.
Experts persuade victims not to pay the ransom and they will convince them instead that they should take their computers to information-technology professionals to have the viruses removed.
“Paying the fine will only be providing criminals with a credit card number,” said Robert Siciliano, an online security expert with McAfee.
“Often the criminal will still not keep their end of the bargain and will just continue to ask for more money,” added Eva Velasquez, CEO and president of the Identity Theft Resource Center.
Although Dent wasn’t defrauded with any amount of money, her experience with the virus traumatized her. The virus turned on her web camera and snapped a picture of her at her computer to make it look like she was under investigation by the federal government.
“You could see my whole living room,” said Dent, a former sales clerk who was scared by the incident and didn’t even know how to turn on her web camera at the time. “You could see my door was open. You could see everything.”
Dent contacted Norfolk police and said she spoke with officers for more than an hour, but a police spokeswoman said no report was filed.
Dent said she paid a man $135 to fix her computer. She rarely uses it now, however, because she is afraid of getting hacked again.
“I probably have 800 emails sitting on there,” she said. “I don’t even bother anymore.”
And what she did to the webcam is she put a piece of electrical tape over it, just to be safe.
“Ransomware” takes over a computer and prevents users from operating it, supposedly until they pay a fee. Experts urge victims not to pay the ransom but to have information-technology professionals remove the viruses.