The state’s warning residents about hackers who are freezing computers, and then demanding money to unlock the devices.

Courtesy of the Missouri Attorney General's office

Courtesy of the Missouri Attorney General’s office

Joe Bindbeutel with the Missouri Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division notes there have been about three-dozen complaints from people who have fallen victim to a scam known as “ransom-ware”. “(It’s) a program that gets into your computer and essentially locks it down that you can’t use it” said Bindbeutel.  “The scammers can then offer to free-up that virus for an amount of money.  It’s a very effective scam because once they’ve locked you down, it is very difficult to unhook that virus and get your computer back running.”

The ransom-ware scams are typically packaged in email messages where the recipient is encouraged click onto a link to get information about an offer.  Once the computer connects to the link, the virus is downloaded.

Bindbeutel says the hackers then have an advantage over frustrated consumers.  “Lots of folks that fall to this have decided to actually to go ahead and pay the ransom, which is unfortunate.  That just encourages more ransom scams.”

Bindbeutel also notes the current outbreak of scams appears to be aimed at individuals with personal computers rather than businesses, which often have mechanisms in place protect against security breaches.  “Sometimes a ransom can be very significant, but the ranges we’re seeing on most of these, the total amount of ransom is under $1,000.  So that obviously is focused on individual users.”