FBI Ransomware ScamThis morning I looked at one of the computers in my room, and it had a warning screen on it – very similar to the screenshot to the left. If you’ve ever seen this or a similar screen when you turned on your computer, then you were probably a bit concerned…

Don’t be. It’s a scam, and it’s a very annoying one at that.

Did the FBI Really Lock Down My Computer?

There are different versions of this scam. In this one, as soon as you log into the computer a screen appears informing you that the FBI has locked down your computer. Some rational is given – for example, it might say you were engaging in file sharing.

If you see this screen, the first thing you need to know is that it has nothing to do with the FBI. The FBI would never invade your personal computer and install some kind of blocking software on it. If you really are a nefarious file sharer, they might come knocking at your door, though…

So What Is This, And Why Am I Supposed to Pay Money?

This is a kind of scam called ransomware. It comes in many shapes or forms.

The idea is simple. Software hijacks your computer and prevents you from doing anything. You are instructed to send payment – usually by some kind of untraceable form, like MoneyPak or GreenDot – somewhere. If you pay, then your computer will be freed.

In this case, you are told the FBI will unlock your computer after you pay a fee/fine. Sometimes, this takes the guise of an anti-virus program. You’re told that you are unprotected and you must buy some software (for $50-60) before you can use your computer.

In all cases, this is simply a scam to get your money. Sending them money is unlikely to solve the problem, and you’ll just end up being a little bit poorer.

So What Do I Do?

Well, this is a tougher question. There are ways to remove these programs, but they are a little complicated for the average user. Also, if this is installed on a school computer, you may not have the administrative rights necessary to do the troubleshoot the problem and remove the offending files.

Your best bet is to inform your school’s tech coordinator that the computer is infected with a virus. He or she will know what to do.

In the future, I might write up a guide for how to fix this if you are facing this problem at home. In the meantime, try searching Google for “remove FBI ransomware” or something similar and you could probably find a tutorial.