A-level Student Hangs Himself After Police Ransomware Scam

A 17-year-old A-level student has hanged himself after apparently falling victim to a ransomware scam.

Joseph Edwards from Windsor took his own life at the family home on 6 August last year, after receiving a spam email spoofed so it appeared to come from Cheshire police.

The message claimed he had been visiting illegal websites and that indecent images had been found on his computer.

As per many ransomware scams of this type, the note continued that he had to pay £100 to avoid prosecution – in this case to be made via electronic payment service Ukash. Malware downloaded onto Edwards’ computer also locked the machine, rendering it useless.

The schoolboy had a form of autism, which may have made him more likely to believe the scam was genuine, according to the Daily Telegraph.

"The internet is an amazing thing, but it can also be dangerous and I want parents to make sure their children are aware of this sort of scam, especially autistic children, because they will not understand,” mother Jacqueline Edwards said in a statement seen by the paper.

The tragic circumstances around Joesph Edwards’ death are not without precedent.

Last March, a Romanian man from Movila Miresii reportedly killed himself and his four-year-old son after receiving similar police ransomware, this time demanding a $20,000 fee to unlock his computer and avoid prosecution.

Ransomware is becoming an increasingly popular scam amongst the cyber-criminal underground.

Earlier this month, Microsoft put out an alert warning that infamous ransomware Cryptowall had been spotted again in the wild.

The new version apparently uses Tor to disguise communications between victim and attacker, and the I2P anonymity network to communicate with its command and control server.

That followed a large outbreak in late 2014, when over 4000 computers were infected with a previous incarnation of the malware – most of which were located in the US.

Experts say the best way of avoiding ransomware is to keep up to date with anti-malware tools and avoid clicking on any suspicious web links or opening attachments in unsolicited emails.

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