After years of Internet scams in which criminals tried to trick people out of money, some of the latest efforts depend on the element of fear.

In recent months scammers have been harassing area residents with threats of jail time for alleged debts.

And most recently a computer scam has locked up computers with a frozen screen demanding payment for violation of federal laws.

That was the case for Donna Ford, whose computer locked up on Saturday displaying a screen with an FBI logo at the top.

The screen appeared when Ford turned on the computer, her daughter Melissa Gilbert said during a Monday telephone interview.

“It said we had done something, we had violated a law -- a copyright law,” Gilbert said. “It gave an article number and section number. There was a little square box in the corner (that) looked like a web cam trying to video you. It says ‘cam on’ and there’s a red dot next to it.”

The notification said that the violations carried a penalty of $200-$500, and said that Ford would have to send $200 by an Internet payment service in order to have her computer returned to normal, Gilbert said.

“It looked real, the wording,” she said. “It had a blue screen with writing at the top. FBI in big letters. It gave our IP (Internet provider) at the top, it gave all that information.”

Ford was able to regain control of her computer, but only by working for about seven hours with her virus protection company, Gilbert said.

When called by a reporter, Robert Wubker at Phoenix Computers said that was the third instance in three weeks he had heard of the scam. In one instance a friend was hit with the virus and had to work all night to recover his computer.

“Don’t pay them anything,” he said. “It’s a scam.”

Fittingly enough, Wubker said, it has been dubbed the “FBI virus.”

While there are millions of computer viruses out there, this scam may have originated because of the attention the FBI made to a particular virus recently in the news, Wubker said.

In that case, victims of the attack were kept online through the use of government servers, and those servers were shut down about two weeks ago, putting the story in the news.

For those who are not computer savvy, fixing a freeze-up like the FBI virus will run $70, Wubker said.

“What this plays on is that announcement the FBI did,” Wubker said. “It’s interesting that this virus would come out at this time.”

Unfortunately, he said, viruses are a part of life, at least for those who spend time on computers. A study conducted about two years ago found that less than 1 percent of malware and viruses originate from so-called illegitimate material, but instead through commonly visited and trusted sites.

 Each time a user allows access, through Active X controls used in playing many online games for example, a door is opened that not only allows in the wanted application but also those that are hostile, Wubker said.

“You’ve opened a door for a virus to find you,” he said. “You don’t just open a door for the game to be played, you’ve opened a door period. It’s like you open your door to let a friend in and 20 gnats and five flies come in. You don’t want those gnats and flies in, but you have to let your friend in.”

 

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