BBB warns of scam that holds smartphones ‘hostage’

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Many people use their smartphones for just about everything, including holiday shopping at this time of year. Now, hackers have found a new way to take advantage of that.

The Better Business Bureau is warning that hackers are now holding phones hostage and demanding a ransom.

Scammers have used the tactic on computers in the past, but now experts warn it is showing up more and more on smartphones and tablets. The BBB said the new type of malware, sometimes called “ransomware,” is typically targeting iPhone or iPad users on Safari.

Scammers find a way into a smartphone and lock it. Once it’s locked the owner cannot do anything with it. The BBB said the message will say “Warning IOS – Crash Report. Due to a third party application your phone iOS crashed.” The pop-up instructs you to call a customer support number immediately to fix the issue.

If you call the number, victims tell the BBB “tech support” will charge you about $60 to unlock the phone. The BBB said not to fall for it.

“You should call your cell phone carrier. Let them know what’s going on. See if they can help you out of this. You don’t want to be held hostage, so to speak, by these people who are scamming you, and have gotten into your phone. So don’t pay the 50 to 60 bucks,” said Tim Maniscalo, CEO and President of the Better Business Bureau serving Central Indiana.

If you do pay the money, the BBB said you’re opening yourself up to further cyber attacks.

“Anytime you’re giving people your financial information, in this case you’re going to give them your credit card, these people have ripped you off once, so what’s to say they wouldn’t take that, do it again? These are not ethical people, honest people that you’re dealing with,” said Maniscalo.

There are a few ways to protect yourself from being hacked. The BBB provided this list of recommendations from the National Cyber Security Alliance:

  • Protect all devices connected to the Internet. Computers, smartphones, gaming systems, tablets and other web-enabled devices all need protection from viruses and malware
  • Keep your mobile devices up-to-date. Download operating system, app and security upgrades as so as they are available (you should receive a notification on your device).
  • Be cautious. Secure your phone and other devices with a password.
  • Protect your privacy. Review privacy policies before you download a new app, and make sure you understand what the app can access on your phone (contacts, photos, social media, location, etc.).
  • Be savvy about Wi-Fi. When you are on-line through an unsecured or unprotected network, be cautious about the sites you visit and the information you release. Limit the business you conduct at hotspots (wait to do your banking from a secure network).
  • When in doubt, don’t respond. Scammers may reach out by email, text, voicemail, even social media posts. Be very cautious giving out personal information and never share account numbers

If you see the ransomware or if you’ve fallen for it before, you can contact the BBB. You can also watch the BBB’s scam tracker online, to keep an eye out for any other scams.

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