NORTH FORT MYERS, Fla. - Your computer is locked and a message pops up. Not only is the government watching you, but it knows you did something illegal! Only, the message isn't from the government, it's a virus criminals are using to get your money.
When he's not drawing, Michael Metrione is at his computer.
"I put in a few hours [at the computer]," he told us. "...email, I check my bank statement everyday."
But the other day something unexpected happened.
"I went to turn [the computer] on and this is what came out. They stipulated that if they didn't receive the money, they would permanently shut off your computer," Michael showed us.
Here's exactly what Michael saw: a message with a logo that looked eerily similar to the real U.S. Department of Justice's official logo.
The message claimed all illegal activities conducted through his computer were recorded in a "police database" and that to unlock his device, he had to pay a release fee of $300.
People hit with this virus now are even more confused about its validity given the recent revelation about the NSA's email surveillance program.
"I was probably ready to do it because it was significant being the government and I don't like to get involved in things," explained Michael.
Certified computer technician and owner of All Star Tech Support, Jeff Marsh says most people who bring in their computer with this type of ransomware feel the same way.
"To some degree there is a little therapy involved when [clients] drop off the machine, 'Are they watching me?' You know?" explained Jeff. "No they're not watching you or anything like that. But they do have valid concerns."
And Jeff tells us that recently, he's been getting at least one computer a week in his shop, with some type of ransomware virus.
"One of the reasons why we've seen it a lot recently is because there's a trojan virus associated with this virus, this Ransomware," explained Jeff.
And just as the Greeks waited inside the original Trojan horse until the time was right to attack, the virus works the same way.
"It's built in a way that it reaches a Thursday or a Friday and it's going to go off and it's going to open and all of a sudden your computer's compromised," Jeff said.
According to the government's Internet Crime Complaint Center, in 2012 more than 1900 people complained about being a victim of some sort of ransomware computer attack. Victims handed over more than $134,000 to scammers.
The Department of Justice says if you're faced with a message from the government, like Michael, get it to a computer expert right away.
"Giving them [extortionists] money to take the virus off isn't going to remove the virus, it's just not. It's designed to keep extorting money from you," explained Jeff. "... take it to someone you trust, take it to someone you know is not going to gouge you, that's going to be fair and remove the virus."
Luckily for Michael, his wife was suspicious of the message.
"She said, they're looking for money. Because I had already made a check out," he recalled.
On top of that, his wife called us at WINK to confirm that it was a scam.
"So my better half figured it out," Michael said. "... after 65 years we know each other pretty well."
If you find yourself in the same situation, shut off your computer and bring it to an expert who will remove the virus. Make sure you keep updating your computer with the latest operating systems and legitimate antivirus software. Finally, you can file a complaint with the government's Internet Crime Complaint Center.