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Beware The Phantom Hacker Scam

The FBI is warning the public of a recent nationwide increase in “Phantom Hacker” scams, a type of tech support scam meant to bilk victims out of their savings, retirement, or investment accounts while pretending to be tech support specialists, or government employees who will “protect” their assets from foreign hackers.

In the first half of 2023 alone, the FBI received 19,000 complaints with victims losing an estimated $542 million. Almost 50% of the victims who filed complaints were over 60 years old indicating that the seniors are being targeted.

This Phantom Hacker scam is multi-layered and uses the names of reputable companies and U.S. government agencies to gain their victims’ trust. A recent FBI press release identifies the three phases of the scam as follows:

Phase 1 – Tech Support Imposter

  1. A scammer posing as a tech or customer support representative from a legitimate company contacts the victim through a phone call, text, email, or a pop-up window on the victim’s computer and instructs the victim to call a number for “assistance.”
  2. Once the victim calls the number, a scammer directs the victim to download a software program, allowing the scammer remote access to the victim’s computer. The scammer pretends to run a virus scan on the victim’s computer and falsely claims the computer has been or is at risk of being hacked.
  3. Next, the scammer requests the victim open their financial accounts to determine whether there have been any unauthorized charges – a tactic the scammer uses to determine which financial account is most lucrative for targeting. The scammer chooses an account to target and tells the victim they will receive a call with further instructions from the fraud department of the respective financial institution hosting that account.

Phase 2 – Financial Institution Imposter

  1. A scammer posing as a representative of the financial institution mentioned in phase 1, such as a bank or a brokerage firm, contacts the victim. The scammer falsely informs the victim their computer and financial accounts have been accessed by a foreign hacker and the victim must move their money to a “safe” third-party account, such as an account with the Federal Reserve or another US Government agency.
  2. The scammer directs the victim to transfer money via a wire transfer, cash, or cryptocurrency, often directly to overseas recipients. The scammer may instruct the victim to send multiple transactions over a span of days or months.
  3. The scammer tells the victim to not inform anyone of the real reason they are moving their money.

Phase 3 – US Government Imposter

  1. The victim may also be contacted by a scammer posing as an employee at the Federal Reserve or another US Government agency. If the victim becomes suspicious of the government imposter, the scammer may send an email or a letter on what appears to be official US Government letterhead to legitimize the scam.
  2. The scammer continues to emphasize the victim’s funds are “unsafe” and they must be moved to a new “alias” account for protection until the victim concedes.

Please be vigilant. These scammers are trying to scare and pressure you into making a mistake. If anyone suspicious contacts you about the possible hacking of your financial accounts, the FBI asks that you please report it. You can report it to your local FBI field office or online at www.ic3.gov