National Consumers League

Fraud alert: New malware scams making April fools out of victims

March 27, 2014

Contact: NCL Communications, Ben Klein, (202) 835-3323,

Washington, DC—Anti-fraud advocates at the National Consumers League are warning consumers this month about a scam being tracked by the Federal Trade Commission, the FBI, and other federal agencies: Cryptolocker malware. Crooks are targeting consumers and businesses with sophisticated technology that, spread through email and difficult-to-detect downloads, encrypts the contents of a hard drive, making it impossible to use one’s files. According to the FTC, after the malware is installed by an unsuspecting computer user, the Cryptolocker crooks send a ransom note demanding hundreds of dollars in payment via Bitcoin or another anonymous payment method before they will unlock the files. Once a consumer pays the ransom, there’s no guarantee that the fraudster will not simply ask for more money.

“Even if you pay the ransom, are you really willing to bet that the criminals running this scam will honor their promises and unlock your computer files?” said John Breyault, director of NCL’s campaign.

Ransomware has been around for a decade, but the frequency and severity of CryptoLocker scams appears to be on the rise. According to Dell SecureWorks, CryptoLocker raked in $5 million dollars in the last four months of 2013 alone.

study by the University of Kent found that 2 out of every 5 CryptoLocker victims pay the ransom. This malware is especially sneaky, as it can be disguised as JPEG images, as PDF files, as Microsoft Office files, and other innocuous, familiar files. There are even reports that Facebook could be one of the likeliest places to get a CryptoLocker malware. Businesses have also been reported to be victimized by these scams.

Tips for avoiding Cryptolocker and other malware scams

  1. Back up your files frequently on a separate device (which does not remain connected to your main computer) or use free cloud storage systems that are available online.
  2. Be on the lookout for suspicious looking phishing emails and links. Do not click on links or attachments from untrusted senders.
  3. Consider using ad-filtering applications that are free for your web browser to avoid clicking on suspicious links from ad pop-ups either by accident or by compulsion.


About the National Consumers League 

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Its mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit