Web Scammers Are Trying to Scare You Into Paying Fines for Illegal Downloads | Smart News | Smithsonian

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Web Scammers Are Trying to Scare You Into Paying Fines for Illegal Downloads

Computer criminals freeze your computer and pose as FBI agents demanding a ransom for all of your illegal downloads

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Photo: powtac

Criminals working through the web are constantly trying to find new ways to make a quick buck. Most web users know by now to avoid Nigerian princes, so scammers now have a new trick to persuade unsuspecting users to to empty their bank accounts. It’s called ransomware, Popular Mechanics reports:

Criminals have begun to pose as law enforcement agencies, using official language and sometimes even agency logos. The messages claim authorities have evidence that users committed a crime online, such as downloading pirated media or illegal pornography. In some cases, the software takes over the computer’s webcam and photographs the user. The ransom is disguised as a “fine” for the crime, usually ranging from $50 to $400. And—surprise!—paying the ransom almost never results in having the computer unlocked.

Usually, computer users pick up these bugs at shady websites. A visit to one of these sites automatically triggers downloads of ransomware software, unbeknownst to the user. Like avoiding dangerous blocks in the inner city, Popular Mechanics suggests the best protection against such attacks is to “stay away from the seedier areas of the Internet.”

If you are attacked, don’t pay the ransom. As the Webroot Threat Blog explains, a system restore may take care of the problem, while more knowledgable users can try to manually remove it. Or you could just buy a Mac.

More from Smithsonian.com:

How Hackers Made Kinect a Game Changer
Your Password Will Probably Be Hacked Soon 

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