FBI warns of increase in ‘Phantom Hacker’ scams causing senior citizens to lose retirement savings

Texas man scammed out of $80k when he tried to do the right thing (KSAT)

HOUSTON – The Federal Bureau of Investigation is warning people that there has been an increase in “Phantom Hacker” scams that are targeting senior citizens and taking all of their bank savings.

During this scam, people pretend to be with tech support, a financial institution, and the government so victims can trust them, and they can find the largest accounts to go after.

Victims typically can lose all their retirement savings, money in their savings accounts, or investment accounts after they’re tricked to protect their assets.

“Between January and June 2023, 19,000 complaints related to tech support scams were submitted to the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), with estimated victim losses of over $542 million. Almost 50% of the victims reported to IC3 were over 60 years old, comprising 66% of the total losses. As of August 2023, losses have already exceeded those in 2022 by 40%,” the FBI said in a news release.

Phase 1 - Tech Support Imposter

1. A scammer pretends to be a tech or customer support employee for a company and contacts the victim through a call, email, text message or a pop-up window on the victim’s computer and asks the victim to call them for help.

2. Then, the scammer will ask the victim to download a software program so they can log onto the victim’s computer. The scammer later says they’re conducting a virus scan on the other person’s computer and says that the computer could be or has been hacked.

3. The scammer will ask the victim to check their financial accounts to see if there have been any unauthorized charges. This will help the criminal learn what account possibly has the most funds. The scammer then tells the victim they will get more information from the financial organization or bank that keeps the funds of that account.

Phase 2 - Financial Institution Imposter

1. A scammer that is pretending to be a representative of a financial institution from phase one will reach out to the victim. The scammer lies to the victim and states that a foreign hacker has accessed their computer and financial accounts, and they need to move their money to a third-party account with the Federal Reserve or a United States government agency.

2. The scammer asks the victim to send the money as cash, through wire transfer, or cryptocurrency to overseas recipients. The victim may be told to send several transactions for a few days or months.

3. The criminal will also ask the victim to not tell other people why they are moving their funds.

Phase 3 - U.S. Government Imposter

1. The victim could also be contacted by a scammer posing to be with the Federal Reserve or another U.S. government agency. To seem more legitimate, the scammer will also send and email or letter with the government’s letterhead.

2. The criminal will also continue to tell the victim their money is not safe and they should transfer their money.

Here are some tips from the FBI to protect your funds.

  • Do not click on unsolicited pop-ups, links sent via text messages, or email links or attachments.
  • Do not contact the telephone number 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.
  • The US Government will never request you send money via wire transfer to foreign accounts, cryptocurrency, or gift/prepaid cards.

To report fraud or scams, go here: www.ic3.gov.

About the Author:

Cynthia Miranda graduated from UT Austin and is a proud Houstonian. She is passionate about covering breaking news and community stories. Cynthia previously covered elections, the historic 2021 Texas winter storm, and other news in East Texas. In addition to writing, she also loves going to concerts, watching movies, and cooking with her family.