Scammers freeze computers and tell users to send $200 to Comptroller

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - We warned you in August about an internet scam that could lock up your computer and let scammers demand a ransom to fix it.  Maryland officials say that scheme is back - with a twist.

You surf the web, thinking no one is looking over your shoulder.  But scammers want you to believe big brother is minding your business.  In this scam, the con artists are locking up computer screens through a virus, claiming the only way to fix it is to send $200 to the Maryland Comptroller.  Caron Brace, spokeswoman with the agency, says, "We do not monitor any kind of internet activity and we would not lock their computer and ask them to send any money to us."

Brace says it's a twist on a scam the FBI warned about weeks ago, where web users end up on a compromised site that infects their computer.  That gives scammers the chance to lock them up and demand a ransom.  Brace says, "It's fraudulent.  It's fake.  Do not send any money because that's not authorized by the Comptroller of Maryland."

But scammers want you to think it is from an official.  Experts say using a state or federal agency gives any scheme more credibility.  That's why the Comptroller's office is putting the word out, so you won't be the next victim.  Brace explains, "We want it to stop.  We want to say, we see you.  We know that it's out there and you won't get our Maryland taxpayers."

The best way to head off this scam is to make sure your computer is up to date with its anti-virus software and never click links or attachments you're not familiar with.  If your computer locks up with this kind of message, you'll likely need tech help to completely clean your computer.

And if you ever want to question the validity of messages from the Comptroller, you should call their office directly.

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