Internet viruses don't always present themselves in the form of vague, poorly-punctuated emails asking recipients to send money to long-lost relatives in other continents.
In fact, a new Internet virus may be targeting Maryland residents specifically, asking them to send money to the Comptroller of Maryland, according to Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot.
"It has been brought to my attention that there may be a new variant of an Internet virus specifically targeting Maryland citizens," Franchot said on Wednesday.
"This virus locks up your computer, tells the user that the only way to unlock their computer requires them to send $200 to my office. This is absolutely not true. My office does not monitor private [citizens'] computer usage and has no authority to lock up a computer system or fine anyone for their Internet activities," he added.
"This virus seems to be a variation of an earlier one that attracted the attention of the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) in spring 2011. That virus appeared to come from the FBI or the Department of Justice’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section and acted similarly, but in those instances the message indicated there was a violation of federal law and the fine was to be paid using a prepaid money card service," according to a statement from the comptroller's office.
"Generally a person’s computer becomes infected by a virus when they open an attachment or click on a link. This particular virus installs itself on the computer when the user visits a compromised website," the statement added.
The comptroller's office has compiled a list of ways to protect your computer. These tips were provided by the comptroller's office:
- Make sure you have good anti-virus software on your computer, keep it up-to-date and run a weekly scan.
- Don’t click on links, or an attachment, in an email that you aren’t absolutely sure comes from a trusted source. If you think the email looks suspicious, it probably is.
- If there’s ever any question about the validity of a link, or attachment, contact the person, or company, that sent it and verify its legitimacy.
- Use USB drives cautiously. Viruses potentially can be spread by plugging another USB drive into your computer, or using your drive in another computer. Much like viruses in humans, computer viruses can spread through direct contact, not always through the computer files.
- Watch out for pop-up ads that look like they came from your computer. Some viruses are disguised as warnings from your computer program, such as Windows, that warn you about a problem that needs to be fixed. When clicked, the virus is installed. Check the validity of the warning by opening the anti-virus software on your computer—any warnings will be found on the front page. And, clean the computer cache regularly.
- Watch out for odd emails from companies with which you conduct business. Many scammers have created very good copies of a company’s email style and similar email addresses. If you’re suspicious, visit the company website and see if the notice is on their homepage. Good businesses will never ask for personal or sensitive information via email.
- Use a firewall and make sure it is turned on, but don’t run two at the same time. It can make your computer more vulnerable.
- Switch to a different Internet browser. Many browsers allow you to personalize them to give you more control over privacy choices, pop-ups or tracking software.
Read more about the FBI scam. For free tax help, tips and for answers to any tax question, please go to the Comptroller's Website at www.marylandtaxes.comor call 1-800-MD-TAXES (1-800-638-2937).