Scamwatch: malicious software fraud

Hackers are demanding digital ransoms from computer users...

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Stay one step ahead of the fraudsters with our series of articles giving you the lowdown on the scams they use to trick people out of their hard-earned cash - and how to avoid being taken in by them.

This week, we take a closer look at ransomware - a type of software used by criminals to infect people's computers, tablets or smartphones and extort money from them.

How does it work?
Ransomware infiltrates a computer after a user clicks on a link or attachment in an email or on a website.

Its aim is to scare those affected into paying a ransom by threatening them in some way.

In one recent example, ransomware sent out to computer users in Australia encrypted - or locked up - recipients' files and threatened to delete them.

The malware message, which featured the Los Pollos Hermanos chicken shop logo from the hit series Breaking Bad, then directed them to a website through which they could protect their files by buying Bitcoins to pay the hackers a digital ransom of more than £500.

How can I avoid being caught out?
Ransomware can be used against companies and government agencies as well as individuals.

And conventional anti-virus programs may not be enough to prevent an attack. However, you can take measures to protect yourself.

These include backing up your files on a system that is not directly connected to your computer or network and investing in online storage that will be able to retrieve uninfected files.

You should also ignore any suspicious emails and avoid clicking on any links in messages sent from people or organisations you do not know and trust.

I've been defrauded. What should I do?
The only way to remove ransomware from a computer or device is to strip it of all the files and software previously installed and reset it to what is called factory condition.

If you have a back up system, the files and software that have been removed can then be reinstalled.

As with all types of fraud, you should ignore ransomware payment demands and report the attack to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.

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