Small business warned to watch out for ransomware

19 May 2015

This Fraud Week, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is warning small business operators to think twice before opening email files that could contain ransomware after the latest Targeting Scams Report revealed that almost $1 million was lost to these scams last year.

Ransomware is a type of malware that infects a computer system by restricting access unless a ransom is paid to a scammer for the restriction to be removed.

“The ACCC received over 2,500 ransomware and malware complaints last year with over $970,000 reported lost by small businesses and consumers. Several people reported losing over $10,000 to these scams, which can have a devastating effect on a small business,” ACCC Deputy Chair Dr Michael Schaper said.

“Ransomware can also see your business losing all of its business and financial records, which may be catastrophic.”

Victims reported receiving an email purportedly from a reputable sender such as Australia Post or FedEx, with a file attached that will install ransomware on your computer once opened.

“Many small businesses and consumers have reported that their computer has been frozen, with a pop-up alert that claims to be from the Australian Federal Police stating the computer has been locked because they have visited an illegal website or breached various laws,” Dr Schaper said.

“Scammers claim that they will unlock the computer if a fee is paid. However, even if you pay the ransom, there is no guarantee your computer will be unlocked and you’re likely to be up for expensive repairs to your computer and the loss of your invaluable data.”

“Scams like this often succeed because they look like messages from a government agency or reliable large corporation. It’s important that small businesses are aware that government agencies will not send these demands and they’re dealing with a scammer,” Dr Schaper said.

SCAMwatch tips

Ensure your computer has a firewall and up-to-date anti-virus and anti-spyware software.

Do not click on links or download files in emails you receive out of the blue; especially if they are executable (.exe) files or zip files. These files are likely to contain malware.

Use a pop-up blocker as a lot of ransomware is delivered after following links in pop-up alerts.

If there is any doubt about the legitimacy of an email supposedly from a legitimate business, do not rely on contact details or links provided or open any attachments - contact the organisation using the number in the telephone directory or on their official website to verify.

Regularly back-up your computer’s data on a separate hard drive so this can be easily re-installed if your computer is infected by malware or ransomware.

You can report scams to the ACCC via the SCAMwatch report a scam page or by calling 1300 795 995.

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Release number: 
MR 87/15
Media enquiries: 
Media team - 1300 138 917

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