How To Avoid Getting Tricked By Viruses That Want Your Money

Matt Smith 26-07-2012

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Malware that attempts to part victims from their money is nothing new. Some viruses attempt to discover credit card information that can then be used or sold. Other threats look to steal passwords to important accounts. And phishing, which isn’t a virus at all, tries to trick users into providing login information to a fake website.

All of these tactics are behind the scenes, however. The victim doesn’t know when they work well. There is another threat, called ransomware, that attempts to leverage the authority of some well-known organization to extract money directly from victims. Here’s how it works and what you can do to avoid it.

Holding Your Computer Hostage

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The concept behind ransomware is simple. When the virus infects a computer it prevents the user from opening any programs or accessing any important system functions.

The simpliest examples of this threat will only over-ride the normal Windows shell. It may even modify the master boot record, which will send the user directly to a payment screen every time they attempt to boot their computer. All the user’s files are intact but they cannot be accessed through the operating system because of modifications to the interface.


Other threats  will take matters a step further by encrypting files on the victim’s hard drive. This makes them unreadable even if the victim attempts to extract them from another, uninfected computer. Files that are encrypted are often effectively destroyed, since they cannot be read. This is yet another reason to use a backup solution What Is The Best Backup Solution? [Geeks Weigh In] Ten years ago an external hard drive – or even a physical disc such as a CD-ROM – was the only practical way to back up files. Consumer-grade network storage solutions were primitive, expensive and... Read More .

Give Me Your Money, I’m With The Cops

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If you’ve ever watched a Mafia movie before – or perhaps a few episodes of the Sopranos – you’re probably familiar with extortion. A mob boss wants to have a building torn down so he can build a new strip club, so he suggests that bad things might happen to the building’s owners if they don’t sell. Bad stuff can happen to good people, you know?

Some of the more recent examples of ransomware have begun to use extortion as an element. Instead of making criminal threats, however, they make reference to legitimate organizations such as law enforcement.


One recent virus, called FBI Moneypak, informs victims that they have been found guilty of copyright violations and therefore need to pay a fine of $100 in order to unlock their computer. A similar virus has targeted citizens of the United Kingdom since 2011. It claims that the Metropolitan Police have connected the victim’s computer with child pornography and other crimes and the victim must pay 100 pounds to unlock their computer.

Some other recent viruses use established movie and music trade organizations instead of law enforcement and claim that the victim must pay to avoid further prosecution for copyright infringement. In all cases, posing as an authority gives the virus extra leverage because victims fear they will receive jail time or be sued if they don’t pay.

Clever Use Of Phone Charges

avoid virusesThe people who want to take your money via a virus aren’t dumb. They’re always coming up with new and inventive tricks, the most of recent of which is the clever use of phone charges.

Ransomware that makes money in this way won’t ask you to input payment information on your computer. Instead, you’ll be asked to call or text a certain number. In today’s wireless world many people forget that long distance calls still exist and can become extremely expensive.


A virus rolled out in 2011 used this trick. It claimed the victim’s version of Windows had to be re-activated and provided a long-distance phone number. When a victim called, they were placed on hold to rack up charges.

Don’t assume that a message is legitimate just because it asks you to make a call or send a text message. You can be sometimes charged  ludicrous sums for these every-day actions if you contact the wrong number.

What Can You Do To Avoid Ransomware?

There are no special steps that must be taken to avoid this threat. It is different from other viruses because of its payload (the damage it causes to your computer) instead of the way it spreads. You should protect your computer by installing an anti-virus The 10 Best Free Antivirus Software No matter what computer you're using, you need antivirus protection. Here are the best free antivirus tools you can use. Read More and firewall The Three Best Free Firewalls for Windows Read More . You should also become familiar with best security practices How to Spot & Avoid 10 of the Most Insidious Hacking Techniques Hackers are getting sneakier and many of their techniques and attacks often go unnoticed by even experienced users. Here are 10 of the most insidious hacking techniques to avoid. Read More such as avoiding malicious websites and email attachments.

If you are in doubt about a message that appears on your computer, leave your computer and look for information on another PC. Never use a computer that you think has been infected by ransomware to find additional information about a virus. It’s not difficult for a virus to re-direct your web searches.


Remember, no law enforcement agency or company will take your computer hostage, so it’s safe to assume any message asking that you pay to unlock your computer is the result of a virus. Even Microsoft will not lock your computer if you do not pay for the operating system.

Ransomware does not always unlock a system once the ransom is paid. You also have no way of knowing if the infection has been entirely removed. Recovering your system from backup may work. If it does not, you should re-format your drive and re-install your operating system.

Image Credit: Mike Renlund, Christian V, 401(k)

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  1. Minos
    October 30, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    Thank you for sharing nice info. I always have an installed security software to make sure that my system is protected.
    I found another topic on this. Check it:
    [Broken Link Removed]

  2. mrm528581
    August 26, 2012 at 11:30 pm

    My desktop got infected and never would have known without reading this article.

  3. Alex Livingstone
    August 3, 2012 at 9:47 pm

    It's scary knowing how easy it is for some people to access others information but thankfully sites like these have guides to help us prevent it. Thank you.

  4. Wicked
    August 1, 2012 at 11:36 am

    There is also a malware virus in the Netherlands called KLPD virus. It works the same as in the UK and the USA. It wants you to pay within 24 hours 'to avoid prosecution'.

  5. Olga
    July 27, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    Good and useful article. The reverse is that with every this-kind-of-article I become a little bit paranoiac... but that's not really bad after all :)

  6. Shakirah Faleh Lai
    July 27, 2012 at 2:54 am

    I'd heard about the clever use of phone charge but don't know how it works.

    • Matt Smith
      July 27, 2012 at 5:02 pm

      Here is my understanding.

      There are long distance phone numbers and there are also "premium" text message numbers which cost extra to text. Some ransomware will direct you to contact these numbers, which then costs you a bunch a money without you being the wiser. Presumably the malware is commissioned by someone who receives the benefit of these charges.

      There have also been documented cases of Android smartphone infections that constantly send texts to premium SMS numbers, racking up bills for the unfortunate victim.

      • Shakirah Faleh Lai
        July 27, 2012 at 11:29 pm

        Thank you for the info.

  7. Dylan Brendan
    July 26, 2012 at 11:40 pm

    Great and informative article! helped much!

  8. Gian Singh
    July 26, 2012 at 7:12 pm

    Never got one of these but now i know

  9. Brian
    July 26, 2012 at 6:30 pm

    Hi Matt,

    Well worth reading! Here is a guide I wrote that provides simple instructions on how to remove ransomware: (no longer available)

    I hope you find it helpful.