If you are like most people, you are pretty careful online, and never visit questionable or pornographic websites.
Then imagine receiving a notice from the FBI that your computer has been locked, because you've been surfing where you shouldn't. Is it real? Or a scam?
Screen Suddenly Locks Up
Jennifer Werner sat down at her PC a few days ago and couldn't believe what she was seeing: a web page she had never seen before had taken over her computer.
"I walked in and saw a screen up on the computer, and it had the FBI logo," she said, "and I thought someone in the house had done something wrong or by accident."
The FBI alert stated that she had visited an illegal website, and as a result was being locked out of her web access.
To unlock it, it told her to pay a $200 fine.
Werner said "they wanted money. They wanted a $200 Green Dot Money Pack card to unblock your computer."
Online Extortion, or "Ransomeware"
She got suspicious: Send the fine by reloadable debit card from a drugstore?
She realized then it was a new type of online extortion, a virus known as "ransomware." It is downloaded when you click on a questionable website or email.
In some cases it uses your webcam to take a picture of you and display it back to you: That's even more scary.
So Werner and her husband searched on their smartphones for a way to remove it, and found a number of webpages on Google for removing what's called the "FBI Green Dot Moneypack Virus."
"I hit the reboot button," Dan Werner explained. " I hit F12, went to the reboot screen, and followed instructions to do a self clean, a system restore."
If this happens to you, search on another computer or phone for the fix. Or call a computer repair shop.
Jennifer's just glad she didn't pay the ransom.
Bottom line: Assume any email or online notice from the government is a scam, especially if it doesn't include your name specifically in the notice.
The FBI, IRS, or other agencies will not e-mail you: They will write or show up with a knock on your door.
That way you don't waste your money.