Pinellas man falls victim to ransomware computer attack

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PINELLAS PARK, Fla. (WFLA) – Scott Germak thought he would never be the man to fall for a scam.

“How can people be so dumb and fall for this stuff?” Germak used to wonder. But on Tuesday he received an email from GTE Financial, his bank, offering him Tampa Bay Rays tickets.

“It was saying that all their members from April 12 to May something, they could have two free tickets to the Rays game. I went to click on ‘schedule.’ As soon as I clicked ‘schedules,’ a box popped up saying I had a virus. I couldn’t go any further,” Germak said.

“So I called the (provided) number,” he said.

Germak then spent the next 45 minutes on the phone with a man who accessed his computer remotely.

“I saw a lot of things rolling on the screen, you know numbers and letters and stuff.  The next thing I know, he’s got a price $249. I go, ‘I don’t have any money,'” Germak told News Channel 8.

“He’s lucky that there is a number there. Normally you have to buy bit coin and then transfer bit coin, which is an electronic currency, to the bad guys,” said Stu Sjouwerman, founder and CEO of KnowBe4, a cyber security awareness and training company based in Clearwater.

Sjouwerman told News Channel 8 Germak’s computer was attacked by ransomware. Hackers encrypt your files and expect you to pay to get them back.

“That computer is essentially no longer trustworthy, and I would wipe it and rebuild it from scratch,” Sjourwerman said.

“Email is the number one way your machine gets infected. Any email that could arrive in your inbox is potentially a scam. So you really have to look at, ‘Did I expect this? Did I ask for this attachment?’ And, if you didn’t, don’t open it and delete it,” Sjourwerman said.

8 On Your Side reached out to the Tampa Bay Rays and GTE Financial. Both organizations told us several customers have followed the link and received their tickets without any issues. GTE offered to change Germak’s online login.

Meanwhile, Germak is warning others about what he learned from this debacle. He lost his files, is out of money for repairs and his identity has likely been stolen.

“Don’t make a phone call If you get that message come up on your PC,” Germak cautioned.


Tips for protecting your information:

  • Install security software and make sure it’s up to date, Norton advises.
  • Norton recommends keeping all your software up to date, including your operating system, web browsers and plug-ins.
  • If you become a victim of a ransomware attack, do not pay, Symantec says.
  • Symantec cautions against opening unsolicited emails from unknown senders.
Here are additional tips from the Federal Trade Commission:
  • Do not give out personal information online unless you know exactly who you’re dealing with.
  • Before getting rid of a computer or mobile device, wipe all personal information.
  • Keep browsers secure. Use encryption software.
  • Do not share your passwords with anyone.

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