Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) is warning computer users of a relatively new threat to their online security that fraudulently extorts money and personal information. The OPP Anti-Rackets Branch says ‘ransomware’ has been around since 2006 but only surfaced in Canada in late-2011 as well as in Europe and Australia. This malware is first installed by visiting malicious websites set up by criminals. The ransomware produces what has been called a “Police Trojan” or “scareware” because a notice pops up that appears to come from a law enforcement agency, such as the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and/or the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The message is a false accusation of accessing child pornography or other file-sharing websites and subsequently tells the consumer that $100 needs to be paid via money transfer or credit card to unlock the computer. When the victim submits their payment details, the criminals then steal and use personal information.
“Criminal organizations relentlessly work to find any way possible as often as possible to come between unaware people and their money. Your best defence against becoming a victim is to use common sense and be very suspicious of such messages,” says Deputy Commissioner Scott TOD, OPP Investigations and Organized Crime.
In 2012, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) received 1,690 reports from Canadian consumers who have reported receiving the ransomware pop?up message. Of those, 70 victims were identified as having lost a total of more than $7,200 – roughly $103 per victim. Some of the complaints indicate the complainant was surfing Internet pornography sites or viewing free TV online when the message appeared. Others indicate they had turned on their computers and were locked out. In some instances, complainants indicated children were using popular social media sites when the message appeared.
“Ransomware rips data and personal information needed to fuel further criminal activities, such as credit card fraud and routing payments to offshore accounts from the victim’s computer,” says Detective Inspector Paul Beesley, OPP Anti-Rackets Branch. “The best way to go is to stay away from suspicious websites in the first place.”
This infection — known as a ‘drive?by infection’ – is easily distributed tens of thousands of times and relies on the fact that even if only two per cent fall victim to the scam, it is still a very good rate of return. It’s believed more than 97 per cent of victims are reluctant to report the crime. Ransomware has also been the subject of a recent large-scale investigation and the takedown of a criminal organization in Spain, believed responsible for fraud-related losses of more than $1.15-million (Can.) annually.
If you suspect you or someone you know has been affected by ransomware, contact your local police service or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS).
Signs that you may have encountered ransomware:
- A pop?up message or banner with a ransom request.
- A user cannot usually access anything on the computer beyond the screen.
- Sending money outside the traditional or mainstream banking system.
- Sending money to “unlock” a computer.
Tips to protect yourself from ransomware:
- Never click on a pop-up that claims your computer has a virus.
- Update your anti-virus software often and scan your computer for viruses regularly.
- Don’t click on links or attachments in e-mails sent to you by someone you don’t know.
- Turn on your browser’s pop-up blocking feature.
- Never download anti-virus software from a pop-up or link sent to you in an e-mail.