DENVER — The Denver branch of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is warning the public about a new scam by the name of "The Phantom Hacker".
The Phantom Hacker is often performed in three major steps:
Step 1 - Tech Support Imposter
A scammer pretends to be a customer support representative from a legitimate tech company and reaches out to their intended victim via phone call, text, email, or website pop-up.
Once they make contact with the victim (i.e. get them on the phone, etc), the scammer tells the victim to download software that would give the scammer remote access to their computer.
The scammer pretends to run a virus scan on the victim's computer and tells the victim that their device has already been or is at risk of being hacked.
The scammer then requests the victim to go into their bank accounts to determine whether there have been any unauthorized charges. (This allows the scammer to determine which accounts would be best to target.)
The scammer lets the victim know that they will receive a call from their bank's fraud department with further instructions.
Step 2 - Financial Institution Imposter
A scammer pretending to be a representative of the victim's bank contacts the victim.
The scammer falsely confirms that the victim's computer and bank accounts have been accessed by a foreign hacker and tells the victim that they must move their money to a "safe" third-party account with the Federal Reserve or another type of U.S. Government agency.
The victim is told to transfer the money via wire transfer, cash or wire conversion to cryptocurrency,
often directly to overseas recipients.
The victim is also told not to tell anyone the real reason that they are moving their money.
The scammer may tell the victim to send multiple transactions over the span of a few days or months.
Step 3 - U.S. Government Imposter
The victim is contacted by a scammer posing as the Federal Reserve or another U.S. Government agency.
If the victim becomes suspicious, the scammer may send an email or letter on what appears to be official U.S. Government letterhead to legitimize themselves.
Again, the scammer will claim that the transferred funds are "unsafe" and that they must be transferred to a new "alias" account for protection.
The victim transfers the money again, resulting in the loss of entire banking, savings, retirement, and investment accounts.
From January 2023 to June 2023, there were 19,000 tech support scams reported to the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center. Victims had lost more than $542 million during that time frame.
Almost 50% of victims were older than 60 years old.
FBI Denver Special Agent in Charge, Mark Michalek says, “These scammers are cold and calculated. They are targeting older members of our community who are particularly mindful of potential risks to their nest eggs. The criminals are using the victims’ own attentiveness against them. By educating the public about this alarming new scam, we hope to get ahead of these scammers and prevent any further victimization.
Protecting Yourself From "The Phantom Hacker"
The FBI recommends the public take the following steps to protect themselves from falling for this scam:
- Do not click on unsolicited pop-ups, links sent via text messages, email links or attachments.
- Do not contact the telephone numbers 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.
- Remember that the U.S. Government will never request you send money to them via wire transfer, cryptocurrency, or gift/prepaid cards.
Reporting Suspected Fraud
The FBI requests victims of this scam report these fraudulent or suspicious activities to the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).
Be sure to include as much information as possible, such as:
- The name of the person or company that contacted you.
- Methods of communication used, (websites, emails, and telephone numbers, etc).
- The bank account number where the funds were wired to and the recipient’s name(s).
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