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Media > Newsletters > Consumer Advocate > January 2013 > Scam Alert: Hackers Lock PCs and Demand Payment

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Scam Alert: Hackers Lock PCs and Demand Payment

Beware of a recent computer scam that tricks consumers into sending money and revealing personal information.

Here’s how it works: You turn on your computer only to find that your files are not accessible and your computer is frozen. Then, an alert appears on your screen. The alert seems to be from a legitimate government agency, and it informs you that a fee must be paid to unlock the computer.
In reality, hackers are impersonating government agencies to scare consumers into sending money and potentially revealing personal information. In most cases, it is impossible to get any money back once it’s sent, and consumers who send money to cover the “unlock fee” typically find that their computers are only temporarily unlocked, if at all. Eventually, the same distressing alert appears, demanding more money.
Furthermore, the hacker may be able to access personal information such as passwords and online bank accounts stored in the computer’s hard drive, putting victims at risk of identity theft.
Protect Yourself
While browsing online or checking e-mails, be cautious of links and software. Viruses often are encrypted in websites or e-mails that appear to be legitimate. Ensure that the latest version of anti-virus software is installed on your computer.
Never store personal information such as passwords, bank account numbers, or Social Security numbers on your computer. Change your passwords often and opt to use only words and numbers that aren’t easily associated with your identity. For example, never include family or pet names, phone numbers, or birth dates in your passwords.
If your computer is compromised, do not pay the ransom. Instead, visit a local, reputable repair shop and ask a technician to restore the hard drive to factory settings. Then, reinstall backup files and software.
Contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at 800-282-0515 or for more information or to report a scam.