Experts warn about scam that holds your info hostage

Experts warn about scam that holds your info hostage

Our cell phones and computers are important parts of our daily lives.

But what happens when the technology we use becomes a target of hackers hoping to hold your information hostage for a price?

It's called the "ransomware" scam.  It's like someone stealing your wallet, then demanding that you pay up to get everything back.

"You can get a virus and pretty much lose access to everything you have," says David Mastny, the Manager of Informational Security at Cuyahoga Community College.

The tech scam started on desktop computers. Someone sends a virus that "kidnaps" your files and holds them for ransom unless you pay the sender cash.

Now it's spreading to smartphones.

Mastny's job is to protect computer systems and information for Tri-C.

He says you have to pay close attention to your email.

"You might receive an email that says you received a package, something very urgent," says Mastny.

And once you click through that email, Mastny says it may be too late. You may have unknowingly installed the virus by looking at a file.

"Oh, it's terrible. People have pictures of their kids, their family photos on their PC. And you could lose it all just like that," explains Mastny.

Some people feel like they have no choice but to pay up in order to get the encryption code to free their files.

The scammers are so bold they freeze your phone or computer, sending you a message that looks like it's from the FBI.

In some cases, the crooks claim you have broken the law.

"It's not a local problem, it's a worldwide problem," says Vicki Anderson with the FBI.

Anderson says the feds have been getting a lot of calls from people saying their computers have been locked by the FBI and they need to pay to have it unlocked.
Anderson says clearly that's a scam, and agents are busy trying to catch the technology troublemakers.

"We have been successful in the last few years, indicting several people," says Anderson.

"Where there is money to be made, there are people who are filling to do that kind of thing," says Mastny.

Experts say be proactive. Protect your personal files with anti-virus software, and back everything up.

Put a passcode on your phone and only get apps from known sources.

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