Americans should remain vigilant about "Phantom Hacker" scams that have become more common, the FBI advises.
The agency’s Denver field office recently raised the alarm about them, saying in an October 19 press release that the "cold and calculated" scammers using the new financial scheme have swindled some Americans out of all the funds they have socked away over the years. The multi-step scam utilizes impersonation and typically involves those perpetrating them lying to victims about their accounts having been compromised by foreign hackers, according to FBI Denver.
That warning came a few weeks after the federal law enforcement agency published a public service announcement about a "recent nationwide increase" in this type of scam.
The FBI said the "Phantom Hacker" scams often have three steps, involving scammers pretending to be tech support, banking personnel and government representatives.
In the schemes, the first scammer whom victims come into contact with is often someone trying to mislead them into thinking they work as a company’s tech support representative. That perpetrator convinces the victim to "download a software program allowing the scammer remote access to the victim’s computer" and have them look at their bank accounts after having connected via phone, text, email or computer pop-up, the FBI said.
After that, the victim may encounter a person pretending to work for the bank or other type of firm, instructing them to "transfer money via a wire transfer, cash, or wire conversion to cryptocurrency" often overseas to defend their money from a non-existent breach.
The FBI warned Americans that another scammer faking affiliation with a government entity may also subsequently encourage funds to be "moved to a new ‘alias’ account for protection."
The agency’s Internet Crime Complaint Center fielded some 19,000 reports of tech support scams during the first six months of 2023, according to the FBI.
The individual losses can be sizable, with one person in El Paso County seeing $99,000 stolen by scammers, for example. The FBI said the amount of losses incurred in connection to such scams in the six months was $542 million and represented a 40% year-over-year increase.
Victims "often suffer the loss of entire banking, savings, retirement and investment accounts under the guise of ‘protecting’ their assets," the FBI warned.
The agency reported that older folks have been hit hard by such scams, with nearly 50% of victims being above the age of 60.
Federal Bureau of Investigation headquarters building in Washington D.C. (Credit: Celal GÃ¼neÅ/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images) / Getty Images)
"The US Government will never request you send money to them via wire transfer, cryptocurrency or gift/prepaid cars," the FBI noted.
Some things that people can do to try to avoid "Phantom Hacker" scams include not interacting with unsolicited pop-ups or links received by text or email and not dialing the phone numbers within such content. They can also avoid downloading software "at the request of an unknown individual" in contact with them and not granting such people control of their devices, according to the agency’s advice.
Separately, back in February, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said that consumers experienced nearly $8.8 billion worth of fraud-related losses last year. Its data indicated that about $2.6 billion of that total was due to various forms of impostor scams.