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Howard Ain, Troubleshooter: Computer Shutdown Scam

Updated: Tuesday, March 25 2014, 07:57 PM EDT
CINCINNATI (Howard Ain) -- How much would you pay if someone hijacked your computer and demanded you pay a fee?

Well con-men are charging people a lot of money in this scam being called "Ransomware".

Jeannine, a fraud victim, said, "I clicked on a couple of sites; started looking at pictures of Ernie, Elmo and all of a sudden then the screen froze up."
 
Jeannine was planning for her son's two-year-old birthday party online when all of a sudden her computer screen changed.  She says instead of looking at Ernie and Elmo she was faced with what looked 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."
 
The long time attorney admits she panicked, "I was horrified and that is an understatement. The thought of having my bar card torn away from me after all that, I had no idea what I was doing. The thought of me sitting in jail, what is going to happen to my kids, my husband?"
 
After the initial shock Jeannine knew there was something strange when she saw a payment option at the bottom of the site for $300 dollars.
 
Dave Reardon,  a US Postal Inspector, said, "In order to 'unfreeze' your computer 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."
 
Postal Inspectors say in some cases there are blatant messages saying, "Your computer has been locked."  Then, "How to unlock your computer" with instructions on sending payments. 
 
Reardon continues, "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."
 
Postal Inspectors recommend 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.

She said, "If you're scared enough and you don't understand it's a scam you're going to lose.  Your money is gone, your credit card will be maxed out."

Experts say the most important thing you can do is not to pay these crooks any money.  Instead, use another computer to get on the internet and get instructions how to solve the problem.  All antivirus companies have free instructions on how to unblock computers.

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