Warning over 'half-French, half-English' hacking scam

The scam involves a window opening on your screen saying your computer is blocked

A leading French consumer magazine has warned people to beware of a “half-French, half-English” hacking scam that has been ripping off computer users across the country.

The scam involves a window opening on your screen saying your computer is blocked, your private information is compromised and telling you to immediately call a phone number for help, according to 60 million du consommateurs magazine. You are then charged to have the ‘block’ removed.

The written message is also played as a “half-French, half-English” voice message.

The number of reported instances have multiplied in recent months and several regional newspapers, such as Le Télégramme and Le Républicain Lorrain, have reported similar stories.

One victim of the scam told the magazine what happened. “I was on the internet when suddenly a window opened saying that my computer was blocked,” Inès said. A second window appeared informing her that the attack targeted data such as her Facebook ID, credit card, photos, etc, and telling her to urgently call a phone number starting with 08. She said there was also the recorded “half French, half English” message.

Inès dialled the number and spoke to a man who told her the problem was very serious, a “level 5 attack”. The man said that he could solve it for a charge of €149.90. Inès agreed and a “technician” took remote control of her computer for 45 minutes. At the end, he assured her the virus was gone. Then five days later, €450 was taken from her bank account.

Computer users are on edge after the worldwide ransomware virus that crippled several NHS hospitals in Britain last Friday, but people are advised that this French scam does not actually block your computer.

“It’s really a simple window. The computer is neither infected nor blocked,” François-Xavier Masson, head of the Central Office for Combating Crime in Information and Communication Technologies (OCLCTIC) Interior, told 60 million du consommateurs. “At best, the victim will pay for a service that is useless, at worst the scammers will encourage the victim to download software that will take control of his device or even steal personal data from him. Smartphones are also the target of these unscrupulous companies.”

The first thing to do if you face this type of scam is to stay calm, don’t panic. Turn off the computer by pressing Ctrl, Alt and Delete, or by holding down the power button for a few seconds. Then turn it back on in Safe Mode – often this is enough to get rid of the scam window. If not, you can call the free Info-con service at 0 825 805 817 and they will advise you. 

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