Skip to content

3 Red Flags to Watch for in Latest Scam Targeting American Seniors, FBI Warns

Don't fall victim – spot scammers now!

Unfortunately, scams targeting senior citizens are hardly news: Fraud against the elderly increased 84% in 2022 compared to 2021, according to the Internet Crime Complaint Center. But one scam is so widespread and concerning that the FBI is broadcasting a heads-up. Authorities warn seniors to look out for three red flags that someone may be trying to dupe them. Some have lost their entire life savings. 

Beware of "Phantom Hackers"


The FBI warned that Americans should be on guard against "Phantom Hacker" scams that are becoming increasingly common. "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," said Mark Michalek, special agent in charge for the FBI's Denver office. "By educating the public about this alarming new scam, we hope to get ahead of these scammers and prevent any further victimization." 

What Are Phantom Hacker Scams?


In these scams, criminals are impersonating technology, banking, and government officials to convince a victim that foreign hackers have infiltrated one of their financial accounts. "The scammers then instruct the victim to immediately move their money to an alleged U.S. government account to 'protect' their assets," the FBI says. "In reality, there was never any foreign hacker, and the money is now fully controlled by the scammers." The scam is usually executed in three steps, officials say.

Red Flag #1: Scammer Poses as Customer Support Rep


"In the first step, a scammer posing as customer support representative from a legitimate technology company initiates contact with the victim through a phone call, text, email, or a pop-up window on their computer and instructs the victim to call a number for 'assistance,'" the FBI says. 

Next, a Fake Computer Software Download


Once the victim calls the phone number, a scammer tells the victim to download a software program, which allows the scammer remote access to the victim's computer, the FBI says. The scammer pretends to run a virus scan on the victim's computer, claiming it's been hacked or is at risk. 

A Request to View Accounts


The scammer then tells the victim to open their financial accounts to determine whether there have been any unauthorized charges. This lets the scammer see which accounts are most worth targeting, the FBI says. The scammer tells the victim the financial institution's fraud department will soon call with further instructions. 

Red Flag #2: Scammer Poses as a Bank Exec

wells fargo bank entrance

"In the second step, a scammer, posing as a representative of the financial institution mentioned above, such as a bank or a brokerage firm, contacts the victim," says the FBI. The scammer says the victim's computer and financial accounts have been accessed by a foreign hacker and the victim should move their money to a "safe" account with the Federal Reserve or another government agency.  

Scammers Push Victims to Secretly Send Money Abroad

Person withdrawing money from bank teller

"The victim is directed to transfer money via a wire transfer, cash, or wire conversion to cryptocurrency, often directly to overseas recipients," the agency says. "The victim is also told not to inform anyone of the real reason they are moving their money. The scammer may instruct the victim to send multiple transactions over a span of days or months. 

Red Flag #3: Scammer Poses as a Government Official

scammer using mobile phone

"In the third step, the victim may be contacted by a scammer posing as the Federal Reserve or another U.S. government agency," the FBI says. "If the victim becomes suspicious, the scammer may send an email or a letter on what appears to be official U.S. government letterhead to legitimize the scam. The scammer will continue to emphasize the victim's funds are 'unsafe' and they must be moved to a new 'alias' account for protection until the victim concedes."  

Seniors Especially Vulnerable

Senior Man Giving Credit Card Details On The Phone

The FBI reports that nearly 50% of victims of the scam are over the age of 60. In the first six months of 2023, $542 million was stolen—a 40% year-over-year increase. One person in El Paso, Texas, was scammed out of $99,000. Victims "often suffer the loss of entire banking, savings, retirement and investment accounts under the guise of 'protecting' their assets," the agency said.

RELATED: 90% of People Who Die From COVID Have This in Common

Be Alert for Tech Support Scams


In the first six months of 2023, the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center received more than 19,000 reports of tech support scams. The bottom line: Remember that "the U.S. government will never request you send money to them via wire transfer, cryptocurrency or gift/prepaid cars," the agency warned.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a seasoned writer and editor with a passion for helping people make life-improving decisions. Read more
Filed Under
 •  •