Check arrival and departure times at Mitchell International Airport
Monitor traffic conditions in southeast Wisconsin

Cybercriminals bribe victims with “ransomware”

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- How much would you pay if someone hijacked your computer and demanded a fee? It's called "ransomware" and the thieves hope you're willing to pay a lot.

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

Jeannine was planning her son's second birthday party online when all of a sudden, her computer screen changed.

"Instead of looking at Ernie and Elmo, I am faced with what was 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, and I was subject to fines and mandatory imprisonment," Jeannine said.

Jeannine, a long-time 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?" Jeannine said.

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

"In order to 'unfreeze' your computer, it usually involves going out to a Walgreens, Walmart and buying a prepaid card -- most often a GreenDot card or a MoneyGram card and then sending that information to the people who control this," U.S. Postal Inspector Dave Reardon said.

Postal inspectors say in some cases, there are blatant messages: "Your computer has been locked" and then "how to unlock your computer," with instructions on sending payments.

"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 on our house," Reardon said.

Postal inspectors recommend when you set up a computer, always create two user accounts, so if one is blocked by con artists, you have a second entryway.

That is why Jeannine was able to regain control of her computer, but many others haven't been as 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," Reardon said.

Experts say the most important thing for ransom ware victims is to not pay the cybercriminals any money. You need to go to another computer and start searching for a solution which you will always be able to find on the internet. All anti-virus companies post free instructions and utilities to help users unblock their computers.

4 comments

  • Cheri

    Slow news day? Uh, first off this is NOT NEW and has been around for many years. Second off, if she was just looking for pictures of “Elmo” and stuff why was she so panicked and worried about losing her “Bar” license when the warning came up? If she did nothing wrong she wouldn’t have been concerned with such a thing, known the warning was fake, and ignored the fake warning. Something tells me she wasn’t actually looking for Ernie and Elmo pictures.

  • Carol Searing Wood

    When the preview for this story came on. I was thinking of another computer scam. Someone calls with a broken English speaking accent. They tell you they see your computer. That it is broken. Meaning like has viruses or something wrong with it. They can fix it. They will ask you to enter something in your computer. Then everything gets encrypted. They say that this problem can be fixed. For a mess of money. They called me twice. First time I said nothing wrong with our computers. They are working fine. Hung up.. Next time they call. I said Umm someone in this house is a systems security expert. They have ties to the government for their job. This phone is always monitored by the feds. The person hung up fast. Well it is true about the systems security expert in my family. Who has ties to the government for part of their job. But they don’t live in our house at the moment. Who knows. Maybe the feds do monitor our phone because of the family members Systems Securities job.

  • Carol Schroeder

    I too got a phone scammer telling me I owed back taxes and they werre the IRS and if I didn’t give them the name and phone of my attorney they would come, arrest and take me out in front of everyone with my hands behind me in hand cuffs. This same number has called at least once a day for over a week. I no longer answer. Carol Schroeder

Comments are closed.