Bogus online message could cost victims and contacts serious money

Members of Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Anti Rackets Branch are warning computer users of a variation on so-called ‘ransomware’ that is hitting close to home.

‘Ransomware’ is a fraudulent threat to online security has been around since 2006 but only surfaced in Canada in late-2011. This malware is first installed by visiting malicious websites set up by criminals. The ransomware produces what has been called a “Police Trojan” or “scareware” because a notice pops up that appears to come from a law enforcement agency. Two recent complaints indicate the well-known O.P.P. shoulder flash – the logo seen on the uniforms of provincial police officers – is on the pop-up to amplify the perceived threat and come between unaware people and their money.

The message is a false accusation of accessing child pornography or other file-sharing websites and subsequently tells the consumer that a fee needs to be paid via money transfer or credit card to unlock the computer. When the victim submits their payment details, the criminals then steal and use personal information, fuelling further criminal activities.

In 2013, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) received 2828 reports from Canadian consumers who have reported receiving the ransomware pop‐up message. Of those, 129 victims were identified as having lost a total of more than $15,800.00 – roughly $122.50 per victim. In some instances, complainants indicated children were using popular social media sites when the ransomware message appeared while others saw the pop-up threat while viewing free TV online. This infection is easily distributed tens of thousands of times and relies on the fact that even if only two per cent fall victim to the scam, it is still a very good rate of return. It’s believed more than 97 per cent of victims are reluctant to report the crime.

Signs that you may have encountered ransomware:
• A pop‐up message or banner with a ransom request.
• A user cannot usually access anything on the computer beyond the screen.
• Sending money outside the traditional or mainstream banking system.
• Sending money to “unlock” a computer.

Note that this ransomware can in fact be removed from an affected computer without the payment of money to the criminals. However, the process can be complicated and may require the help of a computer store or consultant.