Ransomware is particularly sneaky, and can infect your machine if you accidentally pick up malware from a website or download.
It operates in an alarming way, locking your PC out of the blue and accusing you of committing a crime, before demanding payment to make your system usable again.
See our guide on how to remove a ransomware virus
The signs of a ransomware scam
Below is a real example of a ransomware pop-up message. It's an alarming message to see flash up on your screen, since it freezes you out from accessing your PC and accuses you of committing serious crimes:
- The software often claims to be from the FBI or local police, as in our picture illustrated here. The message may have a veneer of authority, such as imagery of police logos, but there’s nothing official about it.
- The scams often claim to have found evidence of pornography on the computer, embarrassing targets into paying the stated fine.
- In our example here, a huge catalogue of alleged crimes has been listed. However, in reality, no one who had committed any of these crimes would be let off with a fine paid online.
- The ransomware message typically demands a voucher from a payments company such as Ukash, because these don’t leave a trace, unlike regular online bank transfers.
- You can avoid the scam as you would any malware, by keeping your security software up-to-date.
- Never pay the ‘fine’, even if you can’t access your PC. You’ll be putting money into criminal pockets and the payment may not unlock your PC anyway.
- If you’ve been affected, you can usually remove the ransomware from your system by running a recovery tool, such as the free download Norton Power Eraser. However, because your computer is locked, you may need to use another machine to download the program, then save it to a USB stick and run it on your computer after starting it up in Safe Mode.
If your PC or files have been locked by a ransomware virus, see our guide on how to remove a ransomware virus