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Brunswick woman target of ‘phantom hacker’ scam | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #hacker


A document that scammers sent a Brunswick woman as they attempted to steal $90,000 in the “phantom hacker” scam. Courtesy photo

A Brunswick woman was recently targeted in an elaborate “phantom hacker” scam involving people posing as tech support workers, banking agents and government officials.

The FBI last month issued an alert regarding this sort of scam and said some victims have lost their life savings.

That nearly happened to a 64-year-old Brunswick woman targeted through a pop-up ad she said she received when she was trying to log into her Social Security and Facebook accounts using the Chrome browser late last month.

“They are so good at what they do,” said the woman, who requested anonymity because she said she’s embarrassed she fell for the scam. “This is ‘Better Call Saul’-level crime.”

The ad said her computer was frozen and her Microsoft account was hacked and directed her to call a customer service number. She called and was asked to download a program that the FBI said gives the scammers remote access to her computer, which she did. The impostor said her account was used to download child pornography and her credit card information was compromised on the dark web.

She was told to call “Det. John Krebs” of the Federal Trade Commission, who claimed criminals involved in drug and human trafficking had used her personal information to set up shell companies and the FTC was investigating whether she was involved. He texted her official-looking documents with the FTC seal and told her to not disclose the information to anyone because the agency viewed her as a possible cooperating witness.

“They had me so convinced I was a suspect in an international crime ring and the only reason they weren’t battering down my door was I was being a cooperative witness,” she said.

She was then called by “Financial Officer Eric Miles” of the FTC, who told her to give him her Social Security number and attempted to persuade her to transfer $90,000 out of her banking accounts to keep it safe from the traffickers. “John Krebs” called her and reminded her not to disclose the information to anyone. “Eric Miles” said the traffickers were tracked near her residence and instructed her to lie to her financial advisor to start the money transfer.

“They had you complete an escalating difficulty of tasks and got you really frightened,” she said.

She said her daughter came to her house and could tell something was wrong, and the woman eventually broke down and told her daughter the situation before she could complete the money transfer. Her daughter convinced her to call police, who told her it was a scam.

“It makes me sick,” she said. “I put defenses up against them every step of the way. … This is really dangerous, and I don’t feel people understand those who are pretty savvy can get sucked in.”

The FBI said the scam can start with a phone call, email or text, with the scammers typically posing as tech support workers first, then banking agents and government officials.

Brunswick police Cmdr. Martin Rinaldi said the department occasionally receives reports of phone and computer scams, though the “phantom hacker” is unique in that scammers pose as financial institution representatives.

“Don’t provide information on the phone unless you’re 100% sure you know who you’re talking to,” Rinaldi said.

Danna Hayes, spokesperson for the Maine Office of the Attorney General, which has a consumer protection division to assist scam victims, said scams involving fake tech support issues are common. She said Maine victims should contact local police and the attorney general.

The FBI said it received 19,000 tech support scam complaints between January and June this year, with victims losing an estimated $542 million.

The Brunswick woman said she was glad she didn’t turn over money but is worried the scammers were able to access her personal information when she gave them access to her computer.

“I’m embarrassed,” she said. “I just want to get the word out: Even if you think you’re not vulnerable, you could be.”

A breakdown of the typical “phantom hacker” scam. FBI graphic


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