A new trend is on the rise in the world of scamming. Hackers are sending pop-up messages to your computer or Internet browser indicating that the machine was locked or corrupted. The only solution, claims the message, is to call the number for “technical support.” The operator uses the information you give to log in to the computer and hold the data hostage until she paid money by a set time. Hackers can also install software that allows them full access to your system and all personal data.

The trend is spreading like crazy on the Internet. Jim Hood, Mississippi attorney general, issues a warning to computer users to be vigilant about their use, avoid clicking on pop-ups, and not to call any suspicious numbers for technical support. Once you call, they guide you through instructions to click this or type that, which eventually results in them gaining full control of your computer. The messages mask themselves as security alerts from large tech companies such as Apple or Microsoft. He also warned that some messages include a fake countdown, which indicates by what time your system will be “locked” to entice you to call the number as soon as possible.

The scammer assures you that they can fix the issue if you give them access to your system. Once you do so, they require a hefty fee or ransom you must pay to regain access to your computer. The person on the other end of the phone uses high-pressure sales tactics to encourage you to purchase anti-virus software, unnecessary repairs, and other software programs that aren’t necessary and a complete waste of money.

The primary way to tell the difference between a legitimate company and a hacker is that reputable companies will not solicit your business on an individual basis. Using ad-block software to block most pop-ups and ads can reduce your risk of falling victim to the scam. Never give anyone access to your personal computer no matter how convincing they sound.

Shut down your computer right away if you get a message like this, even if the message says not to, because you’re being scammed. Consult with someone for professional laptop repair instead of putting yourself in a vulnerable position. Back up any personal data if possible, or ask the repair shop to do it for you if possible, so you don’t lose valuable documents, photos, or videos.