New ‘Phantom Hacker’ Scam: How To Protect Your Money

Digital illustration of hand reaching out from a laptop screen to steal a credit card.
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As critical as it is to focus on saving and investing your money, you must be just as diligent with protecting it. It’s no secret that scams are on the rise, and you have to be aware of the newest ones that could impact you or your family members. The Denver branch of the FBI recently shared a warning about the new scam known as the “phantom hacker” scam, which targets senior citizens — half of the victims reported were over 60. The FBI has reported that around 19,000 victims of tech-support scams sent in complaints from January to June of this year with estimated losses of over $542 million.

Here’s a look at this scam and how you can protect yourself.

What Is the Phantom Hacker Scam?

This “phantom hacker” scam is often multilayered, and it’s seen as an evolution of tech support scams. Here are the general steps that the scammers follow to steal your money.

Step 1: Fake Tech Support

The initial step in this scam involves contact from someone pretending to be a customer service representative or a technician from an established company. This person will reach their victim through phone, text, email or even a website popup to try to convince them that they have a serious computer problem that could lead to hackers stealing their financial information. The scammer does their best to convince this person of a serious security breach so that the victim is eager to seek assistance in protecting their funds.

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The scammer then tries to get the victim to download software to give this person access to their computer. The scammer has the victim analyze their banking accounts to see if any charges have been made in order to figure out what they should target. The scammer concludes by informing the victim that they will receive further contact from either the bank or a government official.

Step 2: Fake Government or Bank Representative

The scammer will then have an accomplice pose as either a government official or someone from a financial institution to convince the victim that they have to move their funds into a protected account since their account or device is already at risk. This accomplice convinces the victim to transfer the funds by claiming that foreign hackers have access to their accounts.

The victim is often asked to transfer the funds through gift cards, a wire transfer or even cryptocurrency. If a victim becomes suspicious at any point, the scammer may even send an email with government letterhead to convince this person that they indeed work for a government agency.

Once the victim transfers the funds over to the scammer, it’s almost impossible to get the money back, and it leads to their entire account being wiped out. The entire scenario is made up by the scammers, who now have control of your funds.

What makes this scam particularly effective is that it often targets seniors who are worried about protecting their nest eggs. These unsuspecting victims feel that they’re speaking with tech support or a legitimate government official. It can be difficult for seniors to determine the legitimacy of the person contacting them at the moment.

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How Can You Protect Yourself?

The FBI has provided the general public with recommendations to protect themselves so they don’t become victims of this scam. Here are a few reminders:

  • Never click on unsolicited pop-up messages, links through text messages or any kind of email attachment.
  • Never contact the numbers shared in an unsolicited pop-up, text or email.
  • Don’t download random software sent from unknown people.
  • Never give control of your computer to an unknown person.
  • Remember that the government will never ask you to send money through cryptocurrency, gift cards or any other similar payment option.

One key thing to look out for is the contact’s method of communication. It’s highly unlikely that the government or a bank would contact you from a random email. You have to double-check to ensure that the person you’re speaking with is who they claim to be.

It’s also essential that you report any suspected fraud. The FBI has requested that fraud victims of this scam submit a report to the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).

The FBI asks for the following information:

  1. The name of the person or company that reached out to you.
  2. The method of communication that they used to reach out to you.
  3. The banking information where they requested the funds be sent.

Remember that it could be impossible to retrieve stolen funds, so it’s essential that you exercise caution before transferring any money.

Closing Thoughts

With scams getting more sophisticated over time, you must stay diligent to ensure you don’t fall victim. The phantom hacker is just one popular scam that’s targeting unsuspecting seniors. It’s urgent that you share this information with your older relatives — and any other vulnerable people in your life — so that they’re aware of what’s happening.

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