Latest computer scam is hackers taking data ransom

Posted at 10:19 PM, Oct 07, 2012
and last updated 2012-10-07 22:19:50-04

It's like a digital form of kidnapping -- your computer data held for ransom by hackers using a sophisticated new scam known as "ransom-ware." 

Steve Merrifield owns a high end sporting goods shop. After 27 years in business he'd been preparing to sell it. 

All the records for potential buyers stored on his computer server. 

So Merrifield was more than concerned when he realized all of his data had been frozen. 

It turned out hackers had taken control of his machine and flashed the message that for $3000 dollars, Merrifield could have his data back. 

But it didn't stop there. He'd have to fork over an additional $1,000 dollars for each week he didn't comply.|

He'd become a victim of what's being called ransomware. 

Ransomware is becoming so pervasive that it prompted the FBI to put out a warning. 

The bureau says it's getting dozens of complaints each day. 

"It's one of the more destructive pieces of malware because they'll encrypt those files and if you don't pay they can just delete them,” Bruce Snell, with the computer security firm McAfee Security, said.

He said the hackers use such sophisticated methods that it's virtually impossible to recover your data. 

It's believed most are operating overseas, so tracking them down has become futile as well. 

One reason some fall for the scam is the messages look like they're from the government accusing users of things like child pornography. 

"It frightens people and kind of preys on their fear,” said Snell.

"In retrospect the amount of grief this will cause us would have been well worth the ransom, but that wasn't the approach we took,” Merrifield said.

He never did pay the ransom--- nor did he get his data back, even after taking his computer to some of the best experts in the industry. 

"After 10 days of diligence, they regret to inform me they cannot recover the data,” Merrifield said.