FBI Issues Urgent Warning: New Scam Targets Seniors and Drains Their Retirement Funds

The end of September brought a warning from the FBI about a recent menacing scam called the “Phantom Hacker.” The scam has been making rounds nationwide, posing a significant threat to senior citizens. This scam is a sinister evolution of the typical tech support scams we’ve seen in the past. The fraudsters behind this scheme impersonate tech support personnel, financial institution representatives, and even government officials to gain the trust of their victims. The ultimate goal? To drain the victims’ bank, savings, retirement, or investment accounts under the pretense of “protecting” their assets.

Between January and June 2024 alone, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received a staggering 19,000 complaints about tech support scams, with victims’ losses totaling over $542 million. Alarmingly, nearly half of these victims were over 60 years old, accounting for 66% of the total losses. By August 2024, the losses had already surpassed the total for 2024 by a whopping 40%.

Here’s a breakdown of how the “Phantom Hacker” scam unfolds:

Step 1: Tech Support Impersonation

The scam begins with a fraudster posing as a tech or customer support representative from a reputable company. They contact the victim through a phone call, text, email, or a pop-up window on the victim’s computer, urging them to call a provided number for “assistance.”

Once the victim calls the number, they are instructed to download a software program, granting the scammer remote access to their computer. The scammer then feigns a virus scan and falsely claims the victim’s computer is at risk of being hacked.

The scammer then asks the victim to open their financial accounts to check for unauthorized charges—a tactic to identify the most lucrative account to target. They then inform the victim that they will receive a call from the financial institution’s fraud department hosting the targeted account.

Step 2: Financial Institution Impersonation

A new scammer contacts the victim, posing as a representative from the mentioned financial institution. They falsely claim that a foreign hacker has accessed the victim’s computer and financial accounts, urging the victim to move their money to a “safe” third-party account, often masquerading as an account with the Federal Reserve or another US Government agency.

The victim is directed to transfer money via wire transfer, cash, or cryptocurrency, often to overseas recipients. This process may be repeated over several days or months.

The scammer instructs the victim to keep the real reason for moving their money a secret.

Step 3: US Government Impersonation

In some cases, a scammer posing as a US Government employee may contact the victim. If the victim grows suspicious, the scammer may send emails or letters on seemingly official US Government letterhead to legitimize the scam.

The scammer continues to stress that the victim’s funds are “unsafe” and must be moved to a new “alias” account for protection until the victim complies.

Tips to Protect Yourself:

  • Avoid clicking unsolicited pop-ups, text message links, or email links and attachments.
  • Do not call the phone number in a pop-up, text, or email.
  • Refrain from downloading software at the request of an unknown individual.
  • Never allow an unknown individual to take control of your computer.
  • It is important to remember that the US Government will never ask you to send money through wire transfers to foreign accounts, cryptocurrency, or gift/prepaid cards.

Report Suspicious Activity:

If you encounter such fraudulent or suspicious activities, report them to your local FBI field office and the FBI IC3 at www.ic3.gov. Ensure to provide as much information as possible, including the name of the person or company that contacted you, the methods of communication used, the bank account numbers where the funds were wired to, and the recipient’s names.

The best way to protect ourselves and our loved ones from malicious scams is to be cautious and raise awareness.

Here’s How to Stay One Step Ahead-Top 5 Red Flags of Online Scams

The Retirement Loopholes That Could Save You from Massive Taxes