FBI issues warning for increase in internet scams
Have you recently received threatening emails accusing you of cheating on a spouse? Maybe you’ve been harassed by someone purported to have compromising photos of you or a relative? Perhaps the sender claimed you could clear your name by sending over some cash?
You’re far from alone.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is warning the public of an increase in internet extortion attempts during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) is seeing an increase in reports of online extortion scams during the “stay-at-home” orders as people are stuck at home often glued to their phones and computers.
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Scammers are using the opportunity to find new victims and pressure them into sending money, a press release from the FBI stated.
“The scammers are sending emails threatening to release sexually explicit photos or personally compromising videos to the individual’s contacts if they do not pay. While there are many variations of these online extortion attempts, they often share certain commonalities.
There are an untold number of varying extortion schemes out there, but some common indicators run through most internet scams, the FBI said. Below is a small taste of what officials say may tip off a potential scamming attempt.
- The online extortion attempt comes as an email from an unknown party and, many times, will be written in broken English with grammatical errors.
- The recipient’s personal information is noted in the email or letter to add a higher degree of intimidation to the scam.
- The recipient is accused of visiting adult websites, cheating on a spouse or being involved in other compromising situations.
- The email or letter includes a statement like, “I had a serious spyware and adware infect your computer,” or “I have a recorded video of you” as an explanation of how the information was allegedly gathered.
- The email or letter threatens to send a video or other compromising information to family, friends, coworkers or social network contacts if a ransom is not paid.
- The email or letter provides a short window to pay, typically 48 hours.
- The recipient is instructed to pay the ransom in Bitcoin, a virtual currency that provides a high degree of anonymity to the transactions.
But the public should stay alert for scams and extortion tactics of all forms, the FBI warned.
“It is important to remember that scammers adapt their schemes to capitalize on current events such as the COVID-19 pandemic, high-profile breaches, or new trends involving the internet, all in an attempt to make their scams seem more authentic,” according to the press release.
The complaint center provided a number of precautions the public is advised to take as the agency deals with growing fraud schemes.
- Do not open emails or attachments from unknown individuals.
- Monitor your bank account statements regularly and your credit report at least once a year for any unusual activity.
- Do not communicate with unsolicited e-mail senders.
- Do not store sensitive or embarrassing photos or information online or on your mobile devices.
- Use strong passwords and do not use the same password for multiple websites.
- Never provide personal information of any sort via email. Be aware that many emails requesting your personal information appear to be legitimate.
- Ensure security settings for social media accounts are activated and set at the highest level of protection.
- Verify the web address of legitimate websites and manually type the address into your browser.
- The FBI does not condone the payment of online extortion demands as the funds will facilitate continued criminal activity, including potential organized crime activity and associated violent crimes.
Contact the local FBI field office and file a complaint with the IC3 at ic3.gov.
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