WASHINGTON—The email looked legitimate. Terrance Smith’s bank account had been hacked. He called the number on the email and was told he needed to move his money immediately to avoid fraud. Mr. Smith panicked and did everything he was told. He moved $5,000 to what he was told would be a secure account. Mr. Smith thought he had dodged a bullet until the next day when he couldn’t access to his money.
“That’s when the dread set in. I tried everything to get back into that account. When I called my bank, they said they never sent an email, my account was never hacked. It was a fraud scheme,” the D.C. construction worker told The Final Call.
Mr. Smith joins the growing number of people falling victim to tech support scammers that convince people their financial accounts have been compromised and their funds need to be moved. This gives the fraudster control over the victims’ computers and finances.
“Cybercriminals are constantly coming up with new ways to rip off unsuspecting consumers, and this latest tactic has resulted in staggering losses. In some cases, we’ve seen victims lose their entire life savings which is why we are urging everyone, especially our aging family members and friends, to heed this warning,” explained Joseph R. Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the FBI Boston Division in a recent FBI Bulletin.
According to the FBI, in tech support scams, fraudsters pose as customer or tech support representatives from reputable well-known tech companies. They may call, email, or text their targets and offer to resolve such issues as a compromised email or bank account, a computer virus, or a software license renewal. Once they convince victims that their financial accounts have been compromised and their funds need to be moved, they gain control over the victims’ computers and ultimately their finances.
Nationwide, in 2021, 23,903 people reported losing more than $347 million due to tech support scams. This is a 137 percent increase in losses from the previous year. Most victims, almost 60 percent, reported to be over 60 years old, and experienced 68 percent of the losses. The reported losses are probably much higher because older Americans are less likely to report fraud. Many don’t know how to report it, are embarrassed, or don’t know they have been scammed.
Maryland-based cyber security consultant Khabir Muhammad told The Final Call, “We’re online 99 percent of the time. We use multiple passwords and usernames. Hackers are searching for weak spots to gain access to our data. How many characters are in your password? Instead of using the letter ‘A,’ use the @ symbol. It makes your password difficult to crack.”
“Consider using a VPN, a virtual private network. Hackers sit on your network and scan it for your data. There are systems like wire shark that hackers use to watch your data. They analyze it to see if there’s a password or a username they can hack. Make sure your passwords are not easy, at least 10 characters. Also add two-step authentication for frequently used websites. Google and Microsoft have authenticators. Lastly, Facebook is a major cesspool for being hacked. People will ask to send you a code to access someone else’s account,” he explained.
The following tips are recommended:
-Legitimate customer, security, or tech support companies will not initiate unsolicited contact.
-Ensure computer anti-virus, security and malware protection is up to date and settings are enabled to reduce pop-ups.
-If a pop-up or error message appears with a phone number, don’t call the number. Error and warning messages never include phone numbers.
If you are a victim:
-Run up-to-date virus scan software to check for potentially malicious software installed by the scammers. Consider having your computer professionally cleaned.
-Contact your financial institutions immediately by using the number on the back of your bank card or by visiting the institution in person.
-Change all passwords if the scammer had access to your device.