Word to the Wise: Don’t let ransomware hold you hostage

The “ransomware” scam is back and more vicious than ever, according to a new FBI report.

Ransomware is a virus that freezes your computer, holding it hostage until you pay a ransom to unlock it. Victims are consumers and businesses that are reporting losses of up to $10,000 in a new version of this scam that encrypts files. The larger losses are incurred by businesses due to requirements to protect their network and their customers’ personal information.

The scam begins when you click on an infected advertisement or link or open an email attachment. Suddenly, a pop-up appears. The screen tells you that all the files on your computer have been encrypted, making them useless unless you have a key to decode them. This new version of ransomware is appropriately named CryptoWall. Decoding your files doesn’t come free -- or cheap. Victims report that total losses from the different versions have ranged anywhere from $200 to $10,000.

Most versions of this scam demand payment in Bitcoin. Bitcoin is an online currency that is decentralized, unregulated and anonymous, making it a new favorite method of payment for scammers. Like prepaid debit cards and wire transfers, if you pay with Bitcoin, it’s like paying in cash because it isn’t tracked.

To remove the virus without paying the scammers, try running a full system scan on your computer to identify and delete the malicious files. If you are unable to remove the malware, you may need to contact a trustworthy computer repair shop for assistance. Victims may even have to wipe the machine’s hard drive and reinstall files and software.

Avoid ransomware scams by not downloading one. Here are some suggestions:

Always use antivirus software and a firewall. Protect your computer (and your cellphone) by using antivirus software and a firewall from a reputable company.

Update your software regularly. The regular reminders to update your browsers and other software are annoying, but they are for a good reason. These updates protect against the constantly evolving viruses and system vulnerabilities. Most of these have automatic updates available.

Enable pop-up blockers. Pop-ups are regularly used by scammers to spread malware. Prevent them from appearing in the first place by adjusting your browser settings.

Be skeptical. Don’t click on email links or open attachments you don’t recognize, and avoid suspicious websites.

Always back up the content on your computer. If you back up your files, ransomware scams will have limited impact. If you are targeted, you can simply have your system wiped clean and reload your files.

Victims of ransomware scams can file complaints with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at and find trustworthy computer repair shops at

Kelvin Collins is president/CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Central Georgia and the CSRA Inc. Questions or complaints should be referred directly to the BBB at 478-742-7999, or by emailing or,