By now, most seniors have heard of malware, but what about ransomware scams? Ransomware is a type of malware that holds access to your computer hostage. And as the name suggests, keeps access to your computer locked until you pay the ransom demands.
There are a variety of different malware programs, but the ransomware software takes control of your computer only allowing you to communicate with the scammer.
Because ransomware is a form of malware, it works in the same fashion. Criminals gain access to your computer through fake emails, websites, or popups. The links in these fake communications act as a conduit from their computer to yours. The victim often downloads malware thinking the download is for a different program or through links that download it without their knowledge.
The way criminals get you to download their ransomware without your knowledge is by offering you information on the latest news, telling you about a big sale, or offering you free online services such as music, videos, or access to adult sites.
Adult websites are frequently used because the scammer assumes most people are too embarrassed to tell others what they clicked on that downloaded the malware. Plus, the ransomware scams that use adult websites will usually use blackmail as part of the scam to get you to pay the money quickly and quietly.
And ransomware is not just on pop-ups or emails anymore; it is also found in social media.
Social media offers the ideal situation for scammers due to the large pool of unsuspecting victims. People are more likely to click on a link or download software from a “friend” than they are from an unsolicited email or popup. Romance scams take advantage of social media for similar reasons.
With social media ransomware scams, the criminal will hack into a social media account, then send out an exciting message to all of the contacts telling them to click on a link. After that, the ransomware acts the same as if you had downloaded it from a website or email.
Though most ransomware does not make itself immediately known, it will often pop up the next time you attempt to access your computer.
Some ransomware messages claim to be a law enforcement agent or government agency (like IRS), preying on seniors’ healthy respect for the law. The criminal will claim they have blocked access to your computer until certain bogus fines are paid. Making the false claim of being the government or law enforcement usually gets the victim to act fast since no one wants to be on the wrong side of the law.
Thankfully there are ways to avoid getting caught up in a ransomware scam. In this article, we cover the various warning signs of a ransomware scam, proactive steps you can take, and what to do if you fall victim to a ransomware scam.
6 Warning Signs of Ransomware Scams
The best way to avoid being a ransomware victim is to know how to identify the warning signs before it’s too late. According to the FBI, it is critical to be “cautious and conscientious” when online. Unfortunately, all too often, seniors can be too trusting when on their computer in the safety of their home.
Here are some warning signs to be on the lookout for so you can steer clear of ransomware scams:
- An unsolicited and unexpected email shows up with an intriguing or interesting message encouraging you to click on a link to download the information.
- You have already been a victim of another scam where the criminals have gained access to personal information through your computer, putting you at greater risk of future scams.
- Unexpected pop-up boxes appear on your computer with questions or links to close the window.
NOTE: To safely close a popup window, find the corresponding button on your taskbar, then right-click on the icon and click on close. Never click on the pop-up itself to close the window.
- Ads or promotions offering free access to online media such as music, games, movies, or sites containing pornography.
- New icons appear on your computer without your permission.
- Your computer starts to run slower without any apparent reason.
9 Proactive Steps to Avoid Ransomware Scams
In addition to identifying common red flags, it is equally important you take proper steps to protect yourself from online scammers.
- Do not download or click on links unless you know they are secure.
- When accessing current events, use trusted online sites to get the news instead of your links found in your email.
- Before downloading any free online services, be sure to research to make sure they are legitimate.
- Be wary of clicking on any links, even if they come from a friend and feature a cute animal video.
- Always keep your antivirus, anti-malware, and firewall up to date.
- Be sure regularly to run checks regularly for malware.
- Only use trusted antivirus software and avoid unfamiliar brands.
- Take the time to change your passwords every three months.
- Backup your computer to an external source, such as a cloud service, to ensure you do not lose important information.
What To Do if you Fall Victim to a Ransomware Scam
Unfortunately, according to experts, even if you pay the requested ransom amount, the criminal will not necessarily release access to your computer. So, it is vital you take proper steps when dealing with ransomware situations to avoid losing money.
First, if you get a message that your computer is locked up until you meet their demands, even if they claim they are with the law, do not attempt to contact them. Law enforcement and government agencies will never lock you out of your computer for unpaid fines.
Next, take your computer to a local trustworthy computer repair service. Ransomware scams are common and a technical support company can aid you in taking the next steps.
Depending on the ransomware installed on your computer, you may need to replace the hard drive in your computer. But if you have backed up your data to an external location, you can restore your computer to how it was before this incident.
Remember, you did nothing wrong, they are the criminal, and you are the victim, so it is vital you report the incident to the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center ransomware site.