Posted by: Donna Cunningham | April 5, 2015

Computer Locked up? Beware of Ransom Scam

By Donna Cunningham, MSW

I’m writing this to warn you about a very dangeorus scam.

I’m just slowly recovering from a weeklong nightmare.  On Monday morning, I went to use my computer, but the startup page was locked, with a phone number I was to call.  The person who answered said he was from Microsoft, and that the computer was locked because my 5-year warrantee was up. If I didn’t renew it immediately, it would crash and I would lose all my files. He offered me several plans, from 3-5 years, for anywhere from $150-$350, but pressured me to get the money to them that very day.

It sounded like ANOTHER computer scam, but in fact, I bought my computer 5 years ago in early April.  I called a couple of knowledgeable people, and they told me it was something called a ransom scam–in effect, they were holding my computer hostage.   They suggested I call the Microsoft customer service line at 1-800-642-7676.

When I called, they said it was a scam going around, and that 1) They NEVER call customers, and 2)they would NEVER lock up a customer’s computer.   They tried to help me by long distance, but there was no way to get past the locked up opening screen without having the machine to work on.  They also suggested I call their hot line for further advice at 1-877-696-7786.

After further conferring with friends, I decided it was time to replace the old computer anyway, as it had been limping along for months.  I’d been saving money for a new one, but had been putting it off because it would take about a month to learn the new one, and to redo preferences and bookmarks. I was in the middle of writing a book and couldn’t see taking that much time off.

On Tuesday, off I and friend Lynne went to Best Buy, carrying along all the software I’d need them to install.  I bought a great Hewlett-Packard laptop and a service contract from the Geek Squad, finding the man who helped us both patient, kind, and capable. For a variety of reasons, I wasn’t able to pick it up until  Friday.

I am so not good at technical things, so another tech-savvy friend, Kent, kindly came to set it all up for me. Alas, my email server has gotten all new connections (Round cube vs. Mozilla) and Windows 8.1 and the up to date Windows Office as proving very difficult to master. I appear to have lost all my personal email addresses (the old computer still being locked) and all my bookmarks are gone.  (Emails to Skywriter readers come through Feedburner.)

Enough about me. My reason for writing this is to warn you about the ransom scams, as apparently they are going around.  Don’t pay them.

The scammers will hound you by phone, threatening to crash your computer if you don’t send them money.  If you have call blocking, block them. (The number they called me from started with 1-315-370-76xx.)

See if the Microsoft hot line can help you.  If not, take it somewhere in person like the Geek Squad or your own trusted computer person.

The question that remains is, how were they able to get into my computer to lock it in the first place?

I suspect that it was because some time ago, I fell into another scam.  Suffice it to say, they convinced me to purchase a 3-year service to fix my computer by remote screen.  DO NOT GIVE ANYONE YOU DON’T KNOW REMOTE ACCESS TO YOUR COMPUTER.

Anyway, my email addresses are gone, so I can’t write to anyone until I create a new address book.

I want to add that a backup drive to keep all your essential writings on is crucial. If I hadn’t done that constantly after every writing session, all my ebooks and articles would be gone. I use a Sanyo about the size of a deck of cards that costs maybe $50.  It’s absolutely essential now with these ruinous scams. 

Has anyone else out there been locked out of the computer?  How did you resolve it? There has to be some other way besides getting a new one.  Leave us your thoughts in the comment section.


Responses

  1. Donna, Many of these ransomware scams are coming through people playing some of those silly Facebook games.
    Note that Lenova allowed some Chinese spyware on their laptops that leaked personal information to hackers, in some cases including ransomware to be installed unawares.

    NEVER EVER click on those ‘clean your pc’,etc. ads you see. Bugs galore!

    NEVER EVER download/torrent illegal movies, software,etc.(And I know you don’t do this!) because those ‘free’ things come at a high cost. Chinese and Eastern European criminal gangs employ hackers to infiltrate that stuff and put it out to the public who only wants some free goodies. Exceptions would be things that legitimate computer software companies and groups such as Mozilla and Open Source offer for free.
    ALWAYS run good anti-virus, firewall and anti-spy and malware programs. BUT BEWARE! Some of the freebies offered, especially in side bar ads, are malicious programs in and of themselves!

    NEVER EVER open unknown email attachments or ones with a double extension such as exe.exe. You can check your email header by extending the header. This will show you who is actually sending the email!

    Don’t fall for phishing scams. If you are unsure if an email is from who it appears to be from, don’t click any links in it. If it looks legitimate but you are unsure, call the firm or person sending the email.

    Don’t ever give your social security or other personal data up via email or to an unknown sender.
    If you must give personal data up (shopping, taxes, banking,etc.), make sure the site is SSL encrypted (browser will show HTTPS as opposed to HTTP. If you see only HTTP do not give personal or credit care info at that site. Also in the browser link window or at the bottom of the page, you will see a little lock picture!) ) and has a double sign on process,especially for banking,etc. (User name, pin, sign in picture, etc. )

    One good idea for you: ALWAYS back up your drive. There are cloud drives you can use and you can also buy a drive w/about 1 TB space for under $100.00 these days. You can download your bookmarks/favorites into an .htm file and save that file on the drive. The way to do it varies by browser. Same thing with email addies. You can download your address book.

    Here’s an article about removing ransomware:
    http://www.pcworld.com/article/2084002/how-to-rescue-your-pc-from-ransomware.html

    Also get help from sites like Computer Hope and Bleeping Computer.
    Hope this helps!
    From a loyal somewhat geeky reader with Uranus directly on the MC ( in a grand trine to Mars and Jupiter and Moon) and with an Aquarius sixth house cusp!

    • Thank you so much for all the things to watch out for. It’s really a jungle on the internet now, Melo.

  2. Hi Donna;
    I totally understand. I’ve had a Dell with windows vista for 5 yrs and it’s happened to me a few times. First time I did allow remote access but refused to pay anything, it was fixed. Again it happened and I fixed it myself by going into diagnostics mode and doing a system restore (that was hit or miss and very complicated) but it worked. It happened again a few months ago and I read in the Dell set-up guide about Advanced boot options. So I pressed F8 several times right after turning on and then on that screen clicked on Boot Logging. That got me back on. Hope this helps.🙂

  3. there was a story about this in the NYTimes http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/04/opinion/sunday/how-my-mom-got-hacked.html
    I guess I’m sticking to Linux..

  4. you two are gold with your sharing and info….love the astrology markers for WHY you would know and be interested in all these aspects of the only too often perfidious ethernet world….donna, so sorry to hear about your technological woes — aren’t you lucky you have various friends to call on when challenged! must be so irritating to have to divert from the book….no doubt the universe has a silver lining in the event tho..??

  5. This happened to my employer recently (and in truth, it was my fault). He had recently purchased a new computer, so that wasn’t an option. Instead, his tech person erased and rebooted everything from scratch. if files had been backed up, they were saved and restored. I heard these scams, when given remote access to the computer, use the extra space to move files from place to place which slows everything down. I wonder why there isn’t any penalty or punishment for these companies. Is it because they’re based outside the US? On another note, i haven’t heard of this happening to Mac or Apple products, only windows. I hope you enjoy your new computer!

  6. I too was called by a 315 number several different times and a foreign accent man said my PC was sending phishing scams out, that he was from Microsoft and would fix it for 300.00 if I let him remotely fix PC. I fell the 1st time sad to say, but contacted my VISA company and antivirus and Microsoft immediately and was able to get them out of my PC. Then every 4 months or so I get them calling me again but I recognized the number and don’t answer. I also reported that number to BBBureau and to a scam hotline.
    Bottom line is never do anything that does not sound right again! I know I won’t. I keep a 1T external drive now with all my personal stuff in it. I have a folder in my libraries section I label Data and store a few things there that I transfer every night to the external drive. LIFE Saver! My PC went dead a month ago and fortunately all my stuff was external and easy to retrieve!

  7. Donna, I am so sorry this happened to you!

    A similar situation happened to my son recently where a ransomware virus encrypted all his pictures, videos, music, and documents. He was given 72 hours to pay them to “hopefully” get a code to unlock his files. (If they are that malicious in the first place, how could anyone trust they would follow through?) Thankfully he didn’t pay it, but he lost everything he’s accumulated since he moved to Los Angeles, and it appears there is no way to restore the files.

    The worst part is that he was in the process of backing up his information to a portable hard drive, but when the virus struck it also targeted any drives that were attached to the USB ports, so all those files were lost as well. I guess the moral of the story is that backing up is not enough. Disconnect your jump drives and portable hard drives after backing up information, otherwise you may lose those files too.

    I read somewhere that a person paid the ransom and got the code to unlock their files, but when they went to remove the virus from their computer it encrypted the files again with no offer to pay for another code. Paying ransom just encourages them to keep doing it, but in the event someone does they may want to back up those files before trying to remove the virus from their computer, otherwise they may lose them along with their money.

    Good luck with the new computer, Donna!

    • Awhile back there were some jump/flash USB sticks that had that damn stuff in it to begin with. Be very careful what you buy and what you use these days!

      • Yowie! I bought a whole bunch of cheap flash drives a year or two ago, and most of them didn’t work anyway. But cheap ones that are infected could lure in a lot of people. Thanks again for sharing, Melo. Donna

        >

  8. A similar thing happened to me, although this hack job was through a phone call informing me that I needed to renew some Windows program. While I was (rather stupidly) on the phone with them, they commandeered my computer.

    I was told that the hackers were getting access to my computer through the Wi-Fi router. The tech also informed me that if I get another such phone call to immediately hang up, of course, but to also disconnect the Wi-Fi router for awhile.

    I do not remember how I regained control of my computer…think that I just shut it off & when I rebooted, it was OK. I am still getting lots of these phone calls & they are usually from a Skype phone number. I never answer these calls & always disconnect my router for awhile. Apparently, the phone call scam is easier to recover from than what you experienced.

    One thing, though, they never seem to give up…I receive at least two of these scam phone calls a week. I do have loads of anti-virus & anti-malware on my machine, plus some other helpful software tools to fix such invasions. So sorry you experienced this evil invasion…especially since you are a ‘public’ person with a large email base & offer so much wonderful information. I hope that you are able to salvage your important documents. Be careful out there, everyone.

    • That about the WiFi router is very good to know. And easy besides! Donna

      • Always make sure you have a hardened and password encrypted wi-fi connection! And do not under any circumstances try to access sensitive information from a public wi-fi connection such as those at the library, Starbucks,etc..

    • I thankfully have call blocking on my phone service, so the minute I get a call like that, I hang up and activate the last call received blocking function. Donna

  9. Switching over to a new machine and software is one of the most time consuming affairs to deal with.

    About a year ago, I let someone remotely access my computer for a repair. After we finished the call, I began to panic. I immediately backed up all my software data and personal files and then did a complete re-install of Windows 8.

    I have received the scam calls about Microsoft recently. I politely told the man that he had made a mistake and that I don’t own a computer.

  10. Donna, I read your item about locked up computer with interest. I too had a horrible weekend, but not due to anyone’s fault. I was forced to buy a new computer because of many problems with my old one. I too am trying to learn Windows 8.1 and the new Microsoft Office. I have Geek Squad, and will be calling them tomorrow (closed on Sundays). I need to reinstall my WinStar Astrology program and many other items. What an ordeal (my blood pressure has been showing it). Good luck to you.

  11. Thanks, Kristy, those are good warnings. I want to add to the post that a backup drive to keep all your essential writings on is crucial. If I hadn’t done that regularly, all my ebooks and articles would be gone, Donna

  12. So sorry this happened to you. I was a victim about a year ago. I was on FB and clicked on a picture someone posted on my page. Immediately something that resembled an FBI page took over my computer and warned me that I was sharing pornography, threatening to fine me and jail me if I did not send money. First of all,the picture was not pornographic but the entire situation was frightening. They also told me to get a money card which could be obtained from CVS, Walmart, 7 Eleven, etc.to pay the fee, which was about 200.00. I shut the computer down and then reopened it. I could not access anything on my computer. I went to bed upset. The next day I tried the computer again. Still hijacked. I called Comcast, my internet provider. They removed the virus for a fee. The technician named it a Ransomware virus. I also receive the “Windows computer” scam calls frequently. We live and learn. Take care.

  13. Thank you for the information. I received a PayPal scam and was alert because of the information you posted. Sorry that you had to experience so much interference in your life and aggravation.

  14. Do yourself a favor. Buy an apple product and forget all about firewalls and viruses. You will fall in love with the operating system.

  15. If you are able to boot the old computer from a CD or USB stick you can probably copy some information like address book and favorites from it. This is done by booting a Linux live disk. While you are at it you could even install Linux on the old box and use it as a second computer.

    • Thanks, Hallvard. What I intend to do with the old computer is to donate it to Free Geek, an agency here that gives refurbished computers to various service agencies, like for kids who can’t afford their own. They use Linux as their operating system. Donna

      • Hello Donna
        That sounds like a good idea. It saves you the effort of learning a new system, and someone else gets to use the freshly installed Linux system.

  16. such scam are always come with big trouble. Never give access to any unkown person also make sure you have proper antivirus install. Also change your computer password frequntly.

    • When creating and frequently changing passwords is hard to remember…keep a cheat sheet in an Excel spreadsheet that you update and required and save onto a small flash drive. Works for me! AND always use diffficult word phrases…such as tink8scam! 4getit2 ot other scambled words. Also when you answer things like Mom’s maiden name do NOT use it but use a code like PoohGal etc keeps your personal info offline.

      • Helpful, Kristy, thanks. Donna

  17. Hi Donna so sorry to hear about your scammer. I regularly go to my uninstall programs to check for any unusual programs and recently had to uninstall Netcrawl a maladvertising program which willy nilly just downloaded onto my computer last year in November.

    Another time I had a program downloaded again willy nilly on my computer which prevented me from using my space bar and the enter key which was very frustrating. I am a IT student studying Cisco and programming and fortunately I was able to identify these malicious programs and uninstall them.

    If you are able to go to control panel and uninstall programs you may be able to find the malicious programs and uninstall them. Also always back up your computer to either an external hard disk drive or even a 16 GB USB drive.
    You should be able to restore your backed up copy of your old computer onto your new computer but be careful in case it adversely affects your new computer’s software. Thank you for warning us about these scammers.

    All the best Donna I do hope you can get this fixed even if you have to get the services of a computer specialist.
    kind regards Jan Rose

    • Thanks, Jan. I have a service contract now with Geek Squad, and they’ve been very helpful.

      • Dear Donna
        Yes indeed I am aware of this scam – living way-up on an Island off the coast of British Columbia, a friend was first to get hit with the freeze-up and subsequent rip-off – which he unfortunately paid. His computer tech came and cleaned-up his computer when he told her about his experience.
        Since then, I too have had my laptop periodically freeze – but before any notification appears, I quickly remove my battery and re-boot the computer a bit later. So far, it seems to do the trick – no phone numbers or calls. It still occurs once in a while however, so likely there’s some sort of mal-ware haunting my hard drive. I may eventually have to deal with it, but for the time being I’m just putting-up with it.
        Richard Di Castri

      • That about removing the battery is a good suggestion. Thanks, Richard. Donna

  18. Gosh, Donna! This was a real NIGHTMARE for you!!! I wonder if something in your planetary chart caused this unexpected nightmare? It would be interesting to hear from you more about why you think this may have happened. It seems like there really is a reason for every weird happening!!!
    A loyal supporter,
    Elisabeth Barry

    • Well, the effect of the Pluto-Uranus square on my Sun, Moon, and Midheaven is kind of an ongoing influence, but my main suspect is that both transiting Saturn and Neptune are in hard aspect to my Uranus-Saturn conjunction in early Gemini. Donna

      • Yes! I could see that Saturn (business) and Neptune (weird) could be a tough influence on a normally good and very intelligent conjunction like strange Uranus and normally stable Saturn in mental Gemini. You are blessed to be an astrologer with a deep, intelligent and logical mind. Personally, I can affirm that these present times we are all living in are testing most of us to extreme measures. I have just begun to try out a fairly new “stress preventative” pill. It is called “Cortisol Manager” and is a Stress Hormone Stabilizer. I am sure hoping that the daily capsule will help to relieve some of my stress. 90 tablets cost $67.00! I am praying that this therapeutic medicine helps me! Good Luck with your computer! Elisabeth

  19. Thankyou soo much for taking the time to warn us all of this alarming scam…..I will certainly take your advice gratefully. May I also take this opportunity to say how much I enjoy Nd look forward to your emails…….also your books I have read on the recommendation of Stephen Arroyo….. Not personally I regret to add!! He obviously is an admirer of yours too….. Best wishes Pauline Solsby 😊 Sent from my iPad

    >

  20. An elderly in-law had her computer remotely taken over about a year ago. I don’t know what she was told, but the crooks convinced her to wire them a large sum of money to get it working again. She went to the Western Union office — fortunately, the people that worked there stopped her from sending the money.

  21. Hi Donna, Thanks for this timely warning. Rebuilding one’s address book is never fun. Your e-mail on outer transits was enormously helpful. Robin

  22. Donna, the hard drive on the old PC can be removed and placed as a secondary in another machine or use a USB dock and connect it as you would your backup drive. As long as your files were not encrypted (another form of ransomware) you should be able to pull everything off and wipe out the drive. Also, did you try booting to safe mode? Many time these viruses are profile specific and booting into admin profile could give you the opportunity to scan and fix drive. Just suggestions for the future. Sorry you had to learn the hard way.

    • ANOTHER SCAM? I just got an email saying that my email box was full and that I couldn’t send or receive any more emails unless I clicked on a link and supplied information. As I have a new email server, I hesitated, but I didn’t click, as I had just been sending and receiving emails. NEVER click on a link like that or give personal information. Donna

  23. Latest trend is vishing: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voice_phishing

    Try VPN to protect yourself from SOME of this:

    http://lifehacker.com/5940565/why-you-should-start-using-a-vpn-and-how-to-choose-the-best-one-for-your-needs

    Not sure how they did it, but someone somehow got my astrology blog “blacklisted” on Google / Bing. (No one can find my new entries now.)

    See, also:
    https://grandtrines.wordpress.com/2015/04/14/bing-and-google-and-treachery/

    and
    https://grandtrines.wordpress.com/2015/04/09/new-moon-of-april-18-2015/

  24. Reblogged this on Grandtrines.

    • Another scam going around:
      A person with an official sounding voice calling from an 855 number calls you on the phone and threatens to take you to court unless you contact them and pay up. They don’t mention who they are, who they work for or what account you or whoever supposedly are in arrears on. They only contact you via voice mail but will hang up if anyone actually answers the phone.
      SCAM.
      Just jot down the number and then delete the message.
      Do not call the number they leave.
      You can record the message so you can play it for the police or consumer protection agency, but do not call the callers.
      We have been getting these calls. I just delete them.

  25. Donna et al: Here is a great article by the Alpha Geeks over at Windows Secrets on just this subject! I have been reading this newsletter for years, from way back when it was called Langalist and I highly recommend it!

    http://windowssecrets.com/newsletter/how-to-defend-yourself-from-ransomware/

  26. Donna, this happened to me (using a mac) after I downloaded a program that would allow me to convert a file into an MP3. A colleague had to completely unload my computer contents and upload them again — malware free. I never had called the number but my computer was basically locked with the prompt that i had to call that number–no other choice. Furthermore, there was no possible way to uninstall the malware. I have a program on the computer now that looks for viruses and malware.

  27. Never had a problem like tis. Get a MAC next time.😉


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