From the chance to reconnect with old friends to the ability to watch funny videos at any moment, the internet has provided us with quite a lot to be grateful for. But unfortunately, with the good comes the bad. The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) has long been advising Americans to be cautious when going online, as criminals are keen on attacking people virtually, and there are so many different ways you could be making yourself a target for scammers. Now, the agency is warning the public about a certain scam that could quite literally pop up on your computer. Read on to find out when you should be turning off your device immediately to protect yourself.
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Cybercrime is at an all-time high in the U.S.
The FBI’s latest Internet Crime Report sheds a concerning light on the prevalence of online scams targeting people throughout the U.S. According to the report, the agency’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received a record number of cybercrime complaints at 847,376 in 2021—which was a 7 percent increase from the number of reported complaints the year prior. This resulted in over $6.9 billion potential losses in total.
“In 2021, America experienced an unprecedented increase in cyber attacks and malicious cyber activity,” Paul Abbate, the deputy director of the FBI, wrote in a statement accompanying the report.
One FBI office is now warning about a specific cyber scam.
The FBI Field Office in Chicago, Illinois, released an alert on Sept. 15 warning Americans about the rise of one specific form of cybercrime. According to the alert, residents in the Chicago area are being targeted by a technical support scam. Siobhan Johnson, a special agent for the FBI Chicago, said that the scam currently affecting those in the area “begins with a computer intrusion.”
“Victims of this scam experience a frozen computer followed by a pop-up on their screen advising that their computer has been hacked,” Johnson explained. “The pop-up contains a number claimed to be for a well-known computer software company; however, this number really belongs to the scammers.”
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You should never call the number listed on a pop-up for tech support.
This scam continues to evolve once you call the number provided by the con artists. According to Johnson, the scammer answering the phone will pretend to be an employee of a computer software company and claim that your bank accounts and Social Security number have been compromised. You will then be connected with other scammers who are impersonating bank representatives and Social Security Administration workers.
“None of these people work for any of these organizations,” Johnson told Fox 32 Chicago. “They’re all scammers. They’re all well-versed in what their role is in the scam and they’re just going to lead you deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole.”
To avoid this, the FBI Chicago office warned that you should never call the number listed in a pop-up window. “Real security warnings and messages will never ask you to call a phone number,” the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) explains.
Instead, the FBI offers this advice on its official website: “Disconnect from the internet and shut down your device if you see a pop-up message or locked screen. Pop-ups are regularly used by perpetrators to spread malicious software. Enable pop-up blockers to avoid accidentally clicking on a pop-up.”
This type of scam often targets older people.
Tech support scams are common schemes used to commit fraud among older Americans, according to the FBI. “Criminals pose as technology support representatives and offer to fix non-existent computer issues,” the agency explains. “The scammers gain remote access to victims’ devices and sensitive information.”
Johnson said this is exactly what is happening in Chicago right now, noting that in this specific scheme, scammers are convincing people to transfer their money into fraudulent accounts under the guise of “protecting” it. “Imagine being older and retired, and losing $1 million of your savings,” the agent told Fox 32 Chicago.
The FBI Chicago office is seeing a significant number of people “who otherwise have complete and total control over their lives” failing victim to this scam, which prompted the release of this new alert. “Call your mother, call your father, call your grandparents, just let them know: Once the pop-up appears on your screen, that’s where the problem is,” Johnson warned.