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FBI San Francisco office warns of "Phantom Hacker" scam targeting older adults

PIX Now - Morning Edition 10/3/23
PIX Now - Morning Edition 10/3/23 09:37

SAN FRANCISCO – The FBI's San Francisco office warned the public on Tuesday against a new scam called "The Phantom Hacker" that targets older adults.

In the new scam, swindlers pretend to be tech support staff, bank employees and government officials and contact older adults to deceive them into thinking that foreign hackers have infiltrated their financial account, the FBI said in an advisory.

Federal agents said the scam works in three steps. First, a scammer posing as a customer support representative from a legitimate tech company reaches out to a victim through a phone call, text, email, or a popup window on their computer and gives instructions to call a number for "assistance."

Once the victim calls the phone number, scammers tell the victim to download a software program, which gives them remote access to the victim's computer. Scammers pretend to run a virus scan on the victim's computer and falsely claim the computer either was or is at risk of being hacked.

Scammers then tell the victim to open their bank accounts to determine if there have been any unauthorized charges, deceiving victims to reveal which account can be targeted. Then, they tell the victim that they will receive a call from their financial institution's fraud department with further instructions.

Scammers posing as representatives of the mentioned financial institution then contact the victim and falsely inform them their computer and bank accounts were 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 U.S. government agency.

Victims are then told to transfer their money via a wire transfer, cash, or wire conversion to cryptocurrency, often directly to overseas recipients. The victim is told not to inform anyone of the real reason for the transactions. Transfers to the scammers take over a span of days or months, according to the FBI.

Victims may be also contacted by scammers posing as representatives from the Federal Reserve or another U.S. government agency. To assure suspicious victims, scammers might send an email or a letter on what appears to be official U.S. government letterhead to make the scam look legitimate.

Scammers will continue to emphasize the victim's funds are "unsafe" and they must be moved to a new "alias" account for safeguarding, the FBI said.

Some victims have reportedly lost their entire life savings to this scam, according to the FBI.

"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," FBI Special Agent in Charge Robert Tripp said in a statement. "By educating the public about this alarming new scam, we hope to get ahead of these scammers and prevent any further victimization."

The FBI advises the public not to click on unsolicited pop-ups, links sent via text messages, or email links or attachments. Federal agents also urge the public not to reach out to the phone number provided in a pop-up, text, or email, and to avoid downloading software that an unknown individual instructed.

The public are also warned against letting unknown individuals take control of their computer. U.S. government representatives will never ask anyone to send money to them via wire transfer, cryptocurrency, or gift cards, the FBI emphasized.

Those who have relevant information on fraudulent or suspicious activities can report them to the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at They must give information such as the name of the person or company that contacted them; methods of communication used, including websites, emails, and telephone numbers; and bank account number where the funds were wired to and the recipient's name or names.

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