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Woman logs onto her laptop for first time in months after ransomware attack

Posted at 6:12 PM, Sep 11, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-11 18:19:26-04

ETTRICK, Va. -- A local grandmother who contacted the CBS 6 Problem Solvers after scammers locked her out of her own computer for months finally got access to her laptop after a cybersecurity firm saw her story and got involved.

Last month, Florence Gaddis showed CBS 6 her turquoise HP laptop, which she only used to surf the internet and check emails.

Gaddis said she was on her laptop last year when a box popped up that said she had multiple viruses on her computer, and she needed to call a telephone number so that someone could remove them if she paid them $299 for three years of coverage, which she did.

People continued to call about her computer over the intervening months, but Gaddis said in May 2019 they offered to refund her money because their business was closing. All Gaddis had to do was fill in an online banking form and send it online, which she said seemed odd so she refused.

The operator put his supervisor on the phone, and the man said his name was “Ray Jackson,” according to Gaddis. She said the supervisors got aggressive after she once again declined to provide her banking information.

Since May, when Gaddis gets to the user log-in page, her password does not work, and the hint to reset it reads, “contact RAY JACKSON.” The only way she can log onto her laptop is to use a PIN number that “Ray Jackson” provided to her after their May conversation.

An employee with the anti-malware and virus protection company Emsisoft saw Gaddis' story and reached out to the CBS 6 Problem Solvers.

Dave, the head of support from Emsisoft, got on the phone with Mrs. Gaddis and CBS 6, and helped unlock her computer remotely.

Emsisoft said the ploy was no doubt a scam to access Mrs. Gaddis' banking information and laptop.  In order to regain access, Dave had to wipe Mrs. Gaddis' hard drive completely clean, basically restoring to factory standard. That effort cleared any malicious software the scammers likely installed with Mrs. Gaddis' knowledge, Emsisoft said.

The scammers likely reset most of Mrs. Gaddis' Microsoft account and changed her password, which she used to log onto the computer.  The company helped her set up a new account and even installed a five-year license of their anti-virus protection on Mrs. Gaddis' laptop.

"I thank you all so much for helping me," Mrs. Gaddis said, giggling, after successfully logging onto her laptop for the first time in months. "God bless you all!"

Both Mrs. Gaddis and Dave from Emsisoft said her experience is an important lesson for anyone who owns a computer, especially for those who are less technologically savvy.

"If I see a little virus box or a number show up, I will not call it! I'll ignore it like it wasn't there," Mrs. Gaddis said.

"Be a little cynical, and find someone you can trust and don't be afraid to ask questions," Dave said. "The human really is the weak link in security, and the more you learn, the harder that link is to break."

Emsisoft urged those who are less comfortable using computers to find someone they trust to ask about any problems they experience and to never click on links or answer telephone calls from people they do not know.

It is fairly common and relatively easy for scammers to convince those unfamiliar with computers that their intentions are above board.  Preventing scammers from accessing your computer and personal data is the best way to stop them, he said.

  • Do not click on links or reply to emails when you do not recognize the person
  • Do not answer calls from phone numbers you do not recognize
  • Contact a company directly if they reach out to you and you question whether or not they are legitimate

If you do fall victim to scammers, experts said you should report it to law enforcement immediately and contact a trusted professional to help remove malicious software.

CBS 6 News is working for you. Click here to email a tip to the CBS 6 Problem Solvers. Be sure to leave us your name, phone number and detailed description of the problem. You can also leave a message by calling 804-254-3672.

Need help? Contact the CBS 6 Problem Solvers.