Scammers are stepping up their game by sending couriers to the homes of elderly people and others as part of a ruse intended to rob them of their life savings, the FBI said in an advisory Monday.
“The FBI is warning the public about scammers instructing victims, many of whom are senior citizens, to liquidate their assets into cash and/or buy gold, silver, or other precious metals to protect their funds,” FBI officials with the agency’s Internet Crime Complaint Center said. “Criminals then arrange for couriers to meet the victims in person to pick up the cash or precious metals.”
The scammers pose as tech or customer support agents or government officials and sometimes use a multi-layered approach as they falsely claim they work on behalf of technology companies, financial institutions, or the US government. The scammers tell the targets they have been hacked or are at risk of being hacked and that their assets should be protected. The scammers then instruct the targets to liquidate assets into cash. In some cases, the scammers instruct targets to wire funds to a fake metal dealer who will ship purchased merchandise to the victims’ homes.
“Criminals then arrange for couriers to meet the victims in person to pick up the cash or precious metals,” Monday’s advisory warned.
Officials said that from May to December of last year, they tracked estimated aggregate losses topping $55 million from this sort of scam. More generally, the agency received 19,000 complaints of scams from January to June of 2023, with estimated victim losses of $542 million. Almost half of the victims were over 60 years old and accounted for 66 percent of the aggregated losses.
The types of scams included in Monday’s warning use tactics intended to coax the victim into developing trust and confidence in the perpetrators. The scammers promise to safeguard the assets in a protected account. In some cases, the scammers set a passcode with the target. If targets hand over money or other assets, they never hear from the scammers again.
Monday’s advisory comes four months after IC3 warned of an increase in complaints for what the agency calls “phantom hacker scams. This form of scam is an evolution of more traditional general tech ruses. They layer imposer tech support workers with workers from financial institutions and government agencies. Victims sometimes lose their entire holdings in bank, savings, retirement, or investment accounts.
Typically, the target receives a call from someone falsely claiming to work in tech or customer support from a known, reputable company and instructs the target to call a number for assistance resolving an imaginary problem. When a target calls, the scammer tricks the person into downloading and installing a program that gives remote access to the target’s device. The scammer then asks the target to open bank accounts or other types of accounts to investigate imaginary fraud. During this step, the scammer checks balances to see if there’s enough profit potential for follow-on activities.
In any follow-on activity, the scammers pose as either representatives of the financial institution or as an employee at the Federal Reserve or another US government agency. The scammers instruct the targets to wire money, in many cases directly to overseas recipients. The scammers may instruct the victim to send multiple transactions over a span of days or months. In the event the target grows suspicious, the scammers may send written correspondence over what appears to be official letterhead.
The IC3 recommends people follow these practices to prevent falling victim to such scams:
- The US Government and legitimate businesses will never request you purchase gold or other precious metals.
- Protect your personal information. Never disclose your home address or agree to meet with unknown individuals to deliver cash or precious metals.
- Do not click on unsolicited pop-ups on your computer, links sent via text messages, or email links and attachments.
- Do not contact unknown telephone numbers provided in pop-ups, texts, or emails.
- Do not download software at the request of unknown individuals who contact you.
- Do not allow unknown individuals access to your computer.
The FBI requests victims report these types of fraud or suspicious activities to the IC3 as soon as possible. Victims should include as much transaction information as possible:
- The name of the person or company that contacted you.
- Methods of communication used, including websites, emails, and telephone numbers.
- Any bank account number that received any wired funds, along with the recipient name(s).
- The name and location of any metal dealer companies and the account that received the wired funds.