Beware of Phantom Hacker Scams Targeting Seniors, Warns FBI
The FBI warned about a quickly growing nationwide scam specifically targeting older individuals, as 66% of victims are age 60 or over. These scams are known as "Phantom Hacker" schemes and are a new variation on a previously rampant form of tech support fraud. The threat actors will pose as tech support personnel, bank representatives, or government officials, quickly gaining the target's trust. Losses to this scam exceeded $542 million in the first half of 2023 alone.
The Three-Step Approach of "Phantom Hacker" Scams
Tech Support Imposter
The scam begins with the threat actor impersonating a tech support representative. Claiming issues with the victim's computer, they pressure the target into downloading software to "fix" the problem. This seemingly innocuous software is actually remote access software, allowing the scammer access to the system. From there, the scammer "locates" a non-existent virus in the system and informs the victim that their financial accounts may be compromised or at risk.
Bogus Financial Institution Contact
From there, an accomplice joins the ruse, posing as a bank or financial institution employee. They insist that the victim's financial accounts have been compromised and pressure the victim into executing a fund transfer to "secure" the money in a "safe account." In truth, this "safe account" often turns out to be a fabricated government account, accessible only through wire transfers.
Faux Government Official
The third step involves the perpetrators communicating with the victim, posing as a government official from a reputable institution such as the Federal Reserve. Utilizing official-looking letterhead, they will work to convince the victim that their funds are not safe and to follow transfer instructions in order to be protected. They will continue following up, badgering the victim to do so until they finally concede.
Protecting Yourself from "Phantom Hackers"
The FBI had the following safety tips to avoid falling victim to this scam:
• Do not click on unsolicited pop-ups, links sent via text messages, or email links or attachments.
• Do not contact the telephone number provided in a pop-up, text, or email.
• Do not download software at the request of an unknown individual who contacted you.
• Do not allow an unknown individual who contacted you to have control of your computer.
• The U.S. government will never request you send money to them via wire transfer, cryptocurrency, or gift/prepaid cards.
As the majority of victims of this scam are over the age of 60, it is important to talk to family members who may be targeted about the nature of this scam and how to stay safe. Victims have had entire life savings, investment accounts, and retirement accounts wiped out in an instant. Staying vigilant is the key to safeguarding your and your loved one's finances and personal information.
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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.