CASSELBERRY, Fla. (WOFL FOX 35) - Timothy Anderson was surfing the web when a message on his smartphone stopped him in his tracks.
“Right when I went to Facebook, this FBI thing popped right up,” Anderson recalled.
It's an alert, claiming to be from the FBI. It stated his phone was locked because he'd been trolling porn sites. At the end of the official-looking memo, it said he needed to the penalty - $500-bucks - or else the phone won't work again.
The FBI confirms it's a scam, telling us they would never take your phone hostage. They say it's similar to the ransom-ware hack hitting computers around the globe. Experts say the only difference is that it doesn't appear these hackers are stealing any personal info from the phone. They just want you to fall for their phony threat and pay up.
“For the most part, it's not even a virus. It's not trying to do anything malicious to your phone,” explained Josh Dworning, a smartphone expert, “it's ransomware or adware, where they're trying to advertise to you or get money from you.”
Dworning says it's an easy fix to unlock, a simple reset that you can do yourself. “Most phones come with a feature where you can turn of the phone off, it clears the cache, and re-starts and boots into your normal operating system.”
Anderson's mother Laurie Martin is relieved he didn't lose any cash on this. She's warning others, though, about the faceless scammers trying to reach into your phone.
“Don't give in to them and don't give them the $500,” Martin said, “because it's a scam!”
The FBI says a dead giveaway that it's a scam is the bad spelling and grammar you see in most of these threatening messages.