SCAMMERS posing at the Australian Federal Police (AFP) are targeting Australians in an attempt to blackmail them into handing over money to regain control of their computers.
According to SCAMwatch, this scam involves internet users finding that their computer has been frozen, with a pop-up alert appearing on their screen.
The alert claims to be from the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and states that the user's computer has been locked because they have visited an illegal website or breached various laws.
The scammer claims that they will unlock the computer if a fee is paid.
But SCAMwatch warns; the AFP does not solicit funds and this message is not associated with the AFP in any way.
"Don't let a scammer ransom you - if you pay, you are not guaranteed that you will regain control of your computer and there will likely be significant data losses once the virus is removed or computer unlocked," a spokesman said.
"If you have received this scam, unfortunately your computer's security has been compromised.
"Even if you have managed to regain control of your computer - whether by your own means or by paying the scammer - it could still be infected with malware.
"Use your security software to run a virus check but if you have any doubts, contact your anti-virus software provider or a computer specialist."
A SCAMwatch alert was previously issued in October 2012, yet contacts to the ACCC have continued to increase since the beginning of the year.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Association provides information to consumers and small businesses about how to recognise, avoid and report scams via their online portal, www.scamwatch.gov.au.
If you believe you may have been a victim of a scam, we would like to hear from you.
If you live in the Clarence Valley contact The Daily Examiner: Phone 6643 0500 during business hours, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are a resident of the Coffs Coast contact The Coffs Coast Advocate: Phone 6652 2522 during business hours or email email@example.com
How these scams work
You visit a website or receive an email that scammers have infected with scareware.
Out of the blue, your computer freezes and you receive a pop-up alert from what appears to be a reputable authority such as the Australian Federal Police.
The alert may include a police logo to make it appear legitimate.
The alert states that your computer has been frozen because you have violated a law or visited an illegal website. Common claims made by the scammers are that you have violated laws around privacy, copyright or child pornography.
In order to unlock the computer, you are instructed to pay a 'fine' - usually $100 or $199 - using a prepaid money service. These services involve you purchasing a money voucher from a store, which can then be used to make online payments.
If you pay, the scammers may or may not unlock your computer. Even if you do regain access to your computer, malware may continue to operate so that the scammers can use your personal and financial details to commit fraud.
Be wary about which websites you visit and do not open emails from unknown senders - emails may contain malware and some sites may automatically download malicious software on your computer.
Before you download a file, make sure it is from a reputable source.
If the file, is a program (for example, the file name ends with .exe) make sure you know exactly what it will do.
Always keep your computer security up to date with anti-virus and anti-spyware software and a good firewall.
Only buy computer and anti-virus software from a reputable source.
Be careful what you store on your computer - if a scammer gains access to your personal data, they can use it to steal your identity and your money.
If you think your computer has been infected, contact your bank or financial institution immediately and change your passwords.
If you receive a pop up alert and are unable to perform any functions on your computer, it may have been infected and you might need a computer specialist to remove the malware.
If you are able to perform some security functions on your computer, use your security software to run a virus check.
You can report scams to the ACCC via www.scamwatch.gov.au or by calling 1300 795 995.
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