malwareRemember when your computer used to get infected with a virus and it would delete all your information? Frantically, you tried to find someone with enough computer savvy to help you remove the pesky thing. Ah yes, the good old days! “Good old days” you say? Yes, good, because back then, most spyware, malware and viruses were just nuisances that made your computer run slower. Today, it’s a lot worse . . .

Over the years computer operating systems and antivirus software managed to get better and better at getting rid of those annoying things. Unfortunately, the people who produced those them also became better at what they did. Today the landscape is very different. The same people who used to infect your computer and just delete all your data have discovered that it’s more worthwhile to steal your information and money instead.

How bad has it become? Bad enough that worldwide millions of dollars are lost every day. But what about firewalls and those antivirus programs you have running? They must keep the average person’s computer safe, right? Not necessarily, say many security experts.

In this day and age, the new threat comes from computer-criminal gangs who have the know-how to get through firewalls and bypass many antivirus applications.

One example of this is “ransomware” and it’s all over the Internet. You can get it by visiting a compromised web site. Once your computer is infected it displays an “FBI Warning” page stating that your computer is now locked for violating anti-piracy laws. It looks scary, intimidating, and very official. Luckily, it’s also fake.

I’ve seen multiple variations of this attack in the last few months. They all offer to remove the screen after you pay a fine, usually between $100 and $400, by buying a MoneyPak card at Wal-Mart, 7-Eleven, Kmart, CVS, etc. You then enter the code from the MoneyPak card, they don’t always “unlock” your computer, and always disappear with your money.

There are other ways your computer can get infected with this “scareware” as it’s also called. It can come bundled with shareware or other downloadable software. Another method tricks you by displaying deceptive pop-up ads that appear as regular Windows notifications with links that look like “Yes” and “No” buttons. No matter which “button” you click on, a download starts and installs the FBI Moneypak Ransomware on your system. It can also infect your system without your knowledge or consent.

There are many different variations of this virus going to groups in the United States, Germany, Russia, United Kingdom, China, and a host of others. It’s a big money maker for people distributing it. Law enforcement may eventually uncover some of the people spreading it, but most will go undetected. These are large, smart and very organized groups.

So what should you do?

First, don’t pay the fine even if you are guilty of something that is questionable. Most of these perpetrators won’t remove the ransomware anyway, even after you’ve paid them. If you have some basic computer knowledge, just log in to your machine with a different user account and delete the infected user’s temp files.

There are many free applications that can get rid of the infection also, including Malwarebytes. and Spybot search and destroy, they can safely be downloaded from http://download.com.

Trip Elix is a public speaker and author and has been published in several newspapers and blogs. His website is http://tripelix.com