When most citizens think of identity theft, the usual processes might come to mind. A thief nabs a Social Security number or bank account number and makes off with a good deal of money. But as consumers have grown more aware of the problem and corporations have instituted better measures to safeguard their clients’ personally identifiable information, criminals have had to adapt in order to keep their stolen income going.
One of the growing numbers of internet scams is called “ransoming,” as thieves literally hold your smartphone, tablet, or computer for ransom. By introducing malware to your system that freezes your computer and makes the files inaccessible, criminals trick you into thinking that you can remove the malware and restore your device if you pay the money. Often they’ll play off your fears of repercussions, such as stating you have an unpaid debt you never knew about or the even more frightening prospect of informing you that you have broken the law and owe a fine for criminal activity. The thieves make off with your money while you struggle to unlock your device after you paid the hefty fee.
There are a number of problems with this type of crime, the least of which is paying the fee serves no purpose. The FBI has warned that it’s not possible to “decrypt” your files from any computer other than the one that attacked it in the first place. Some unfortunate consumers have gone so far as to just throw away their devices because they think they’re unusable, only to purchase new ones after discovering that paying the ransom didn’t solve the problem.
The most important thing consumers can do is to prevent the likelihood of a threat. These programs are spread through email, video links, and social media channels. Do not click on links that you’re not expecting, even if it comes from an email or social media user you know as that person’s account could quite easily have been hacked. Make sure your antivirus and malware software is up-to-date and that you back up your computer’s files regularly in case you have to reinstall them later. Also, do not fall for their tricks and pay any money…remember, no one will ever contact you online for money owed to the IRS or because you were found guilty of a crime and owe a fine. That’s just not how it works.
Finally, if your computer or device is ransomed, don’t pitch it in the trash just yet. There are steps to take in order to salvage an Android phone or tablet should this happen, and your computer’s file backup should help restore your computer if you have to do a reinstall.
If you found this information helpful, you may want to consider taking part in the Identity Theft Resource Center's Anyone3 fundraising campaign. For more information or to donate please visit http://www.idtheftcenter.org/anyone-3.