Protect your computer from 'randsomware'

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - How much would you pay if someone hijacked your computer and demanded a money to get it back? The cyber thieves behind this scam -  which can infect a computer and hold it hostage - hope the answer is a lot.

There are ways to protect your computer from this malicious virus, and these are free. Keep all your software updated and your firewall always turned on. Don't open spam e-mails or click on strange links, also use a reputable anti-virus program.

"I clicked on a couple of sites, started looking at pictures of Ernie, Elmo, and all of a sudden then the screen froze up," said Jeannine.

Jeannine was planning her 2-year-old son's birthday party online when all of a sudden her computer screen changed.

"Instead of looking at Ernie and Elmo, I am faced with what reported to be the seal of the FBI, and with that was a warning or a message. It said that I had committed several federal offenses. I was subject to fines and mandatory imprisonment," said Jeannine.

The longtime attorney admits she panicked. 

"I was horrified, and that is an understatement. The thought of having my Bar card torn away from me after all that. I had no idea what I was doing. The thought of me sitting in jail, what is going to happen to my kids, my husband?" said Jeannine.

After the initial shock, Jeannine knew there was something strange when she saw a payment option at the bottom of the site for $300.

"This is a home invasion, and they have broken into your home, and they have done it electronically, and if we're not careful, they will be able to get to the exact same things we're trying to protect with an alarm system in our house," said U.S. Postal Inspector Dave Reardon.

Postal inspectors recommend when you set up your computer, always create two user accounts. If con-artists are able to block one way, you have a second entryway.

That's why Jeannine could regain control of her computer, but many people aren't that lucky.

"If you're scared enough, and you don't understand it's a scam, you're going to lose. Your money is gone, your credit card will be maxed out."

Experts say don't pay the cyber-criminals any money. That's the most important thing for ransom ware victims. Go to a different computer, and use the internet to search for an anti-virus company. They usually post free instructions to help users unblock their computers.

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