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New London couple lose life savings in Phantom Hacker cyberscam | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #hacker


Josephine “Josie” Manley, 80, of New London, pictured here in her home on Feb. 9, 2024, was the victim of a recent cyberscam and wants others to be on guard. (Greg Smith/The Day) Buy Photo Reprints

New London ― A New London couple fell victim last month to an online scam that wiped out their savings account and left them near financial ruin.

Josephine “Josie” Manley, an 80-year-old retiree originally from England who is pursuing her U.S. citizenship, said she and her husband, Dana Norman, are still traumatized by the experience, wondering if they will ever ever get their $14,000 back.

New London police are investigating the crime as a Phantom Hacker scam, a cybercrime in which a fraudster poses as a computer technician and tells victims their computer is compromised and financial accounts are at risk.

The FBI issued a warning about the Phantom Hacker scam in October, reporting a 40% rise in complaints and $542 million in reported losses to victims in the first six months of 2023 alone. More than half of the victims were over the age of 60.

Manley said the scam started with a message that popped up on her laptop, warning that her computer had been compromised. The message warned her not to restart the computer but instead to call the number that appeared on her screen.

“I should have actually known better,” Manley said. “I should have just shut it down.”

Instead, Manley called the number, spoke to a man who claimed to be from Microsoft. She mistakenly allowed the man remote access to her computer, unknowingly exposing any information on her computer to the thief.

She would later receive a call from a person who claimed to be a representative from her bank ― phase two of the scam. The man claimed the couple’s bank account was compromised and informed her that the best course of action was to withdraw all of her funds to be placed in the hands of a government official for safekeeping.

The man was convincing, Manley said.

“He knew exactly to the 57 cents how much we had in the bank,” Manley said. “He was very, very plausible. He would protect our money for us if we did certain things. Neither of us were thinking straight. We were traumatized thinking we were going to lose our money.”

A man showed up at the couple’s apartment to pick up the cash that Norman had wrapped in a brown paper bag. Norman said he was hesitant at first but was warned that his failure to comply with the supposed bank directive could implicate him and his wife in the cyber attack.

Norman said he didn’t want any trouble, especially since his wife is here in the U.S. on a Visa and legal trouble might jeopardize her chances at citizenship.

“I told him, ‘I think you’re trying to scam us,” Norman said. “He said ‘no, if I wanted to scam you, I’ve got your account info and I could have gotten your money at any time.”

Later, the couple found the man’s number was disconnected and realized their mistake. Calls to the bank were fruitless since they had willingly withdrawn the money. The couple thinks the man who picked up the money is the same man arrested in Fairfield last week for trying to bilk a couple out of $25,000.

Scams getting more sophisticated

Nora L. Duncan, state director of AARP Connecticut, said scams have been happening for years but are getting more sophisticated and victims are losing hundreds of thousands of dollars every year. The U.S. Department of Justice reports that some of the top scams targeting seniors involve thieves impersonating government officials, sweepstakes or lottery officials or IRS agents.

The FBI, which maintains the Internet Crime Complaint Center, estimates there was a staggering $10.3 billion in losses from fraud and scams in the U.S. in 2022, everything from Medicare and telemarketing scams to home repair and health insurance fraud.

In August, state police arrested a Bronx, N.Y., man who had tricked an elderly Preston couple into paying $12,500 to supposedly bond their daughter out of prison. The thief had posed as a court official. Police later recovered the money, which was handed off to a courier.

“Anyone can be a target of these scams, but we often hear from older adults. Not only might they be newer to technology, they do hold the majority of wealth in the United States and criminals go where the money is,” Duncan said. “It is harder for an older person to recover from the theft because they may be retired and on a fixed income.”

Couple is barely hanging on

Part of the New London couple’s savings was earmarked for paying for the fees associated with Manley’s citizenship and a trip back to England to settle her affairs. The two also had plans to move out of their one-room Huntington Street apartment to another state that is more affordable.

Manley and Norman, 61, in an interview in the tight quarters of their apartment last week, joked that it would be nice to have a place that actually has a kitchen for under $1,000, which is what they’re paying now.

“Through all of this we try to keep our humor. If we didn’t, we’d cry,” Norman said.

The two are on a fixed income ― Norman is a disabled U.S. Navy veteran ― and money was already tight before the theft. They remain on a Section 8 waiting list for subsidized housing.

“We manage but we’re not financially well off … barely hanging on by our fingernails at times,” Norman said.

The two have been married for six years, and part of the money that was stolen came from a settlement from an accident that occurred while Manley was walking to do volunteer work at the food bank at nearby St. James Church.

Duncan credits the couple with coming forward and speaking about the experience, something that is likely to help others. Not all victims report crimes because of embarrassment, she said.

She urges anyone who thinks they are a victim of a scam to contact authorities. AARP Connecticut maintains a Fraud Watch Helpline at (877) 908-3360 and hosts a monthly web series on fraud prevention.

Duncan said no legitimate company will ever ask or demand access into your device, use apps or programs that allow full access into a device which can lead them to sensitive bank account information.

“If anyone ever asks for that, it’s a scam. People should stop and contact the company in question directly to inquire. Just like with scam phone calls – you can hang up and call the phone number you know is directly related to your account,” she said.

Manley and Norman said they are not confident they will see their money again but hopeful for an arrest and think that perhaps their story could help others.

St. James Church, in conjunction with the New London Police Department, is hosting a program called “Prevent thefts, scams and fraud from happening to you,” from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on March 9, at the church at 76 Federal St. To reserve a spot contact the church at (860) 443-4989 or visit www.stjamesnl.org.

For more information and assistance:

The State of Connecticut Office of the Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Unit, (860) 808-5420.

The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov or the Department of Justice Elder Fraud Hotline at 833-FRAUD-11.

The Federal Trade Commission website at https://consumer.ftc.gov/scams.

Tips to Protect Yourself:

•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 U.S. Government will never request you send money via wire transfer to foreign accounts, cryptocurrency, or gift/prepaid cards.

Source/FBI

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