When Langley, B.C. resident Andrew Wilson sat down at his home computer last week, the last thing he expected to find was a ransom note.

But when his screen lit up Thursday morning, that’s exactly what Wilson saw. A message popped up that began with the ominous question: “What happened to your files?”

Wilson, who helps run a family towing business, assumed it wasn’t serious and closed the message window.

It didn’t take long for him to realize he couldn’t open a single file on his computer – from photos to work invoices.

“My personal emails, they’re all locked. They could be in someone else’s hands,” Wilson said. “Personal documents, my family pictures of my daughter, my grandchild. It gets scary.”

The ransom note popped up again, informing Wilson that all his files had been encrypted. He was directed to a website demanding he pay $500 USD worth of Bitcoins, a virtual currency, by Aug. 5 to have his files released.

Wilson did some research and learned he’d become the victim of a kind of virus known as “ransomware" that's become increasingly common in recent years.

Wilson said this specific virus, called CryptoLocker, had somehow infected his computer even though he uses antivirus software and tries to be smart about safety.

“You think you’re doing it right, and all of sudden something like this happens because I may have opened an email six months ago, a year ago,” Wilson said.

Wilson decided not to play ball. When the deadline passed, the people who had infected his computer with CryptoLocker upped their ransom to $1,000 USD worth of Bitcoins.

In the end, Wilson wiped his computer rather than pay – which is exactly what online security experts recommend.

Vaclav Vincalek, founder of Pacific Coast Information Systems, said people can protect themselves by never clicking links in emails. Since fake emails are getting harder and harder to discern from real ones, it’s best to err on the side of caution.

“Sometimes I receive email and I have to pause for a moment and ask, ‘Is this really legit?’ And if I’m not sure I’d rather delete,” Vincalek said.

People who do end up victims don’t have to lose everything, he added, provided they thought ahead and backed up their files.

“Backup, backup, backup. That’s the only way that you can avoid it,” Vincalek said.

With a report from CTV Vancouver’s Penny Daflos