Phony "FBI" Virus Holds Computers Hostage

"Ransomware" holds locks user out of computer, demands payment to unlock it

By Lisa Capitanini and Jose Garcia
|  Tuesday, Jun 18, 2013  |  Updated 10:41 PM CDT
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Rogers Park teen was using her computer when she says someone took control and displayed child pornography. Rob Stafford reports.

Rogers Park teen was using her computer when she says someone took control and displayed child pornography. Rob Stafford reports.

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In the latest twist in computer scams, overseas criminal organizations are targeting unsuspecting computer users by installing a virus which freezes a computer, holds it as ransom, and then demands the user pay as much as $450 to unlock it.

Among the victims is Sarah, a 17-year-old from Rogers Park, who was recently searching for an animated picture through Google’s Image Search tool to place on her Facebook account when she says someone took control of her computer.

"The first thing I saw were pictures of naked children, and it was very disturbing," said Sarah, whose name has been changed to protect her identity.

Sarah said she was shocked and disturbed that the computer malware flashed child pornography at her. Then her picture -- taken by her own web camera -- flashed up on her computer screen. 

Attached to her photo was a phony FBI notice claiming that she had committed a felony by viewing child pornography. The FBI notice also demanded that Sarah pay a fine of $450 with a prepaid money card within 72 hours in order to get her frozen computer unlocked.

"I just couldn’t believe the government could do that," said Sarah’s mother.

Chicago FBI Special Agent Eric Shiffman said that numerous overseas criminal organizations are posing as law enforcement agents and are using computer viruses to exhort money.

"The ransom ware -- the part of the system that is the banner -- is only one component of what’s actually on your computer that’s affecting it," said Shiffman.

He said that the virus can also collect personal information including passwords, bank accounts and other financial information.

Even more disturbing for Sarah’s mother is that her underage daughter was exposed to child pornography. 

"What I want is someone to find out who they are and prosecute them and stop them for doing this to other people -- other kids," she said.

Shiffman said that it is difficult to track down these criminal groups because many computer victims follow the scam’s instructions to pay the ransom fee with prepaid cards that are not traceable. 

FBI officials said people should not pay the fee and should replace their hard drives completely to ensure that the virus is off a computer.

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