WASHINGTON, D.C. (WUSA)-- We have a consumer alert about a scam that uses the name of a federal law enforcement agency to frighten computer users and separate them from their money.
We've all heard the warnings not to share personal information or a credit card number on a website. But in this scheme, you receive a notice that appears to be from the federal government that you've been caught doing something illegal online.
"All of a sudden, it says my computer is blocked, by the FBI," said Peter Walden. A few nights ago, he sat down at his computer to check his email and was surprised by this full-screen message, listing alleged activities for which users are being blocked.
"Maybe you were downloading illegal music, or you were going through pornographic materials, and things of that nature," he said.
What raised his suspicion is that in order to unblock his computer, the screen required a $200 payment with a prepaid money card within the next 72 hours.
"If you don't, the FBI will open up a file against you and you'll end up going to jail. So my first reaction was this is ridiculous. Because I wasn't doing none of these things," Walden told us.
Walden is not easily taken by scams. His profession is nursing.
"I'm trained to use medication as the last resort," he said. But creating colorful medical scrubs out of African fabrics is his passion.
"Wearing these scrubs, you find most of the time the patient is spending time talking about how beautiful they look, where did you get them from, and they forget about the pain they called you for, or they forget about whatever their misery is."
And he's a stickler for details. If you look closely, as he did, the FBI's name on the warning is missing the word 'of'.
"As a lawful citizen, I feel like it's my responsibility and my duty to protect my community," said Walden. "If I can help 10, 15, 20 people just because of the awareness, then I will be doing a service to my community."
The FBI told us it is aware of the scam, known as "ransomware" because it essentially holds your computer hostage.
An FBI spokeswoman told us, "We would never ask Americans for money. Cyber criminals know if they use the name of a law enforcement agency in their scheme, that may lend legitimacy to their appeals."
But in this case, the scheme is not legitimate and if it's happened to you, your computer has obviously been compromised and you'll want to be sure it is virus-free before you use it again.
For more information on this scam, check out the FBI website:
Written by Andrea McCarren
9NEWS NOW & WUSA9.COM