If you answered yes to any of these questions, you could be at risk of becoming another victim of the Internet scams that have hit Walker County over the past few weeks.
Sgt. Tim Thomas, the computer forensics investigator with the Walker County Sheriff’s Office, said he has investigated several cases involving Internet scams lately, including five cases involving the use of what appears to be a message from the Federal Bureau of Investigations.
The message is actually a virus, or “drive-by” malware, that is currently being used by Internet hackers to lock the victims’ computers and demand payment to unlock them.
“The bogus message may look real, but it’s not from the FBI, trust me. They don’t lock up you computer and demand you pay them with a prepaid money card,” said Thomas, who works on a regular basis with the FBI regarding cyber crimes. “If you’re under suspicion of doing anything illegal on the Internet, they (the FBI) just come to your house without prior warning, and take your computer, and very likely you.”
Thomas said this “drive-by” malware is really nothing new, but unlike many of the viruses which are activated when the Internet user opens a file or attachment, this one can install itself when a PC user, unknowingly, clicks on an already compromised website.
The malware immediately seizes the computer and pops up a screen, which somewhat resembles the FBI’s official website, with this message:
“Your PC is blocked due to at least one of the reasons specified below.
“You have been violating Copyright and Related Rights Law (Video, Music, Software) and illegally using or distributing copyrighted content, thus infringing Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8, also known as the Copyright of the Criminal Code of United States of America.
“Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 of the Copyright of the Criminal Code provides for a fine of two to five hundred minimal wages or a deprivation of liberty for two to eight years.
“You have been viewing or distributing Pornographic content (Child Porno/Zoofilla and etc.). Thus violating article 202 of the Criminal Code of United States of America. Article 202 of the Criminal Code provides for deprivation of liberty for four to twelve years.
“Illegal access has been initiated from your PC without your knowledge or consent, your PC may be infected with malware, thus you are violating the law On Neglectful Use of Personal Computer. Article 210 of the Criminal Code provides for a fine of up to $100,000 and/or a deprivation of liberty for four to nine years.
“Pursuant to the amendment to the Criminal Code of United States of America of May 28, 2011, this law infringement (if it is not repeated - first time) may be considered as conditional in case you pay the fine to the State.
“Fines may only be paid within 72 hours after the infringement. As soon as 72 hours elapse, the possibility to pay the fine expires, and a criminal case is initiated against you automatically with the next 72 hours.”
Thomas said the FBI first became aware of this particular scam in 2011, but it is becoming more widespread in the United States and overseas, and the only way to rid your computer of the “drive-by” malware is to take it to a computer expert, who will then have to restore it to its original settings.
“It generally costs around $200 to repair the computer, but the sad part is, you lose everything you had stored on it in the process,” Thomas said. “So the best defense, and the cheapest, is to protect your computer from viruses in the first place, by simply purchasing anti-virus software and installing it on your computer. The best kind to buy, in my opinion, is AVG and it’s available at any of our local department stores that sell electronics.”
Thomas said although he has worked five cases this past week involving this particular scam, there are a lot more out there and people should make themselves aware of each and every one of them.
“We shouldn’t have to keep warning folks about these scams. It’s pretty plain and simple, just use common sense,” Thomas said. “If it looks to good to be true, then it probably isn’t; if you have to pay for something you supposedly won, then you didn’t; don’t click on links in emails, or reply to emails, from someone you don’t know.”
Thomas said anyone who has received a suspicious email or whose computer has been infected by the “drive-by” malware should go to a special website that has been set up by the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Department of Justice and file a report.
“Each complaint that is filed goes into a data base. It’s sort of like a clearinghouse, which is used by the FBI to investigate various Internet scams all over the United States,” Thomas said. “You just put in your information and it lists you as a victim. Then the FBI is able to tell how many victims they have in a particular scam, and if they make an arrest you may be eligible for restitution.”
Protect yourself from becoming an Internet Crime Victim by staying informed. For more information and to test your online practices visit, www.LooksTooGoodToBeTrue.com.
To report an online crime, go to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.IC3.gov.