You're conducting business as usual at your computer when suddenly the screen is filled with FBI insignia and an advisory that your unit is in lockdown and you're under investigation. Most likely, you're being scammed for your money.

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Ransomware is the term applied to a malicious software that's rampant in 20 European countries and now spreading throughout the US. Federal investigators say it can be introduced through websites, e-mails, instant messages or social network postings. Symantec Corporation has termed it "the new Nigerian e-mail scam."

Investigators in Ocean County Prosecutor Marlene Lynch Ford's office say the number of reports they're getting is on the rise. The typical victim finds the PC locked while staring at a pop-up concerning a supposed probe of illegal internet activity implicating the user. Detailed instructions inevitably instruct the victim to pay a fine with a money order or even a gift card, or risk arrest.

In addition to the potential loss of cash to scammers, there's the extra cost of removing the malicious program at service centers.

The FBI warns Ransomware victims against sending money anywhere in response to it. Law enforcement officials recommend keeping security software active, engaging firewalls at all times and avoiding spam e-mails or unfamiliar web links.

The agency is encouraging people to report instances to http://www.ic3.gov. Ford's High Tech Crime Unit can be reached at 732-929-2027.