PITTSBURGH - Target 11 has a warning for anyone with a computer. A new virus is locking computers and the crooks behind it are also extorting money. It's called the FBI MoneyPak Virus. Consumer Investigator Robin Taylor found out how this virus works.
It's called ransomware. The bad guys hold your computer hostage, demanding that you pay them, but even if you do, the virus won’t go away.
"Fear is the operative word there," said Jay Armstrong, a repairman with Computer House Call. He’s getting more calls about the FBI Virus than any other.
"The person is on their computer and then all of a sudden the screen is completely taken over by this message. And it's a very scary looking message," said Armstrong.
The official FBI logo flashes onto the screen and the message may even accuse you of committing a crime, such as downloading child pornography. Then there's the ransom demand for anywhere from $200 to $500 to get back control of your computer.
"Are you afraid that people might fall for this?" I asked Matt Thomas, one of Jay’s clients who got the virus. "Absolutely, absolutely," said Thomas.
Matt says he was on a political website when his screen froze.
"You start thinking did I do something wrong, am I... you know am I going to be, you know is someone going to be knocking on my door looking for me," said Thomas.
The crooks want you to go to a major retail outlet and purchase a prepaid card called a Green Dot MoneyPak that can be used to transfer U.S. dollars overseas.
The virus can be in an email, or on a sketchy website, or even in an attachment for something as patriotic as an American flag. There are about a hundred versions of it. The virus locks your computer but it doesn't usually destroy any data.
"A lot of people don't have good anti-virus software. Having good anti-virus software will really minimize the risk," said Armstrong.
If you get the FBI Virus, the best thing to do is shut your computer down and call a professional. No matter what, don't pay the crooks! Even if you do, your computer will still be locked and you'll really feel like a dummy because you fell for the scam.
If you’re good with computers, you may even be able to remove the ransomware yourself. Here’s a how to guide from the anti-virus software company Norton.