The FBI this holiday is warning about a new wave of scams known as "ransomware," because rather than asking you for money, they threaten you.
They tell you your computer will be permanently locked up, or you may even be arrested, if you don't pay a $200 fine through Pay Pal or a Green Dot Money Card.
And the newest version, called "Cryptolocker" may be impossible to remove if it locks up you PC.
-- Screen Suddenly Locks Up
Jennifer Werner sat down at her PC 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 "Ransomware"
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.
-- FBI Warns About More Advanced New Scams
Since we first spoke with Jennifer back in February 2013, the FBI says these scams have gotten even more sophisticated.
Some threaten arrest, or utility disconnect.
Another has the potential to permanently disable your computer. It is known as the Cryptolocker PC virus.
At this point, removing Cryptolocker requires a full wipe of your hard drive, losing all your files, according to security experts.
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.
- Never wire money, or pay by Pay Pal or Green Dot card to a threat.
- Never open strange, unexpected attachments to any email you receive.
That way you don't waste your money.
Don't Waste Your Money is a registered trademark of the EW Scripps Co.
Follow John on Twitter (@DWYM)