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Mac users targeted in 'ransomware' scam

A warning page purportedly from FBI tells victims they must pay a fine via prepaid card to unlock their computers. Here's what to do if you encounter this scheme.

By Mitch Lipka Jul 19, 2013 12:20PM
Computer error (© Digital Vision/Digital Vision Ltd.)If you use a Macintosh computer running OS X, you're a potential target in a scheme designed to convince you that paying up is the only way to free your computer from being paralyzed, the FBI warned.

Those who click on a site that contains the so-called ransomware end up downloading and installing a program that opens browser windows and sends a scary message. The message appears to be coming from the FBI.

"The warning accuses victims of violating various U.S. laws, then locks the user’s computer," the FBI said. "To unlock the computer and avoid legal issues, victims are told they must pay a $300 fine via a prepaid money card. Attempts to close the warning page result in additional messages that reappear each time victims try to close their web browser."

The idea is to collect the payment -- use of a prepaid cash card makes it virtually a cash transaction and, therefore, impossible to reverse -- before victims realize they can get out of the jam on their own. In fact, the FBI said, those who actually pay the "fine" don't receive any relief from the situation.

Release of the ransomware comes when a user is on normal websites, particularly when they query certain popular search terms, the FBI said. At that point, the pop-up pretending to be from the FBI appears.

A similar scheme was reported last year when a warning was issued by the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Here's what the FBI says to do if you run into this scheme:
  • Do not make any payments if you get one of the ransom messages.
  • Report the attack to the Internet Crime Complaint Center.
  • Go to the Safari menu and choose "Reset Safari" and make sure all the boxes are selected.
  • When you relaunch Safari, hold down the shift key -- that prevents the same windows and tabs that were just closed from re-opening.
  • Alternatively, you can go to the system preferences on OS X and disable the re-opening function.from the "general" pane of system preferences.
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