Phone scams are all about deception — but fear is another tactic that scammers are more than happy to use against you. And if they can frighten you into sharing personal data, you can bet that they’ll push for your money, too.
How common are intimidation tactics for hackers these days? Well, that’s the main idea behind scams like sextortion — which threaten to blackmail you with intimate photos. Some scammers are even threatening to infect people with COVID-19.
But COVID-19 fears are nothing compared to threats against family members. That’s why scammers are trying a new strategy involving gory photos and threats to harm children. What’s more, they’re also targeting immigrants with bogus threats of deportation. If you get a scary message like this on your phone, here’s why you should breathe easy and ignore it.
The lowest of the low
If you thought scammers couldn’t get any lower, guess again. They’re now resorting to outright threats against families with children — and they’re using shockingly violent imagery to get what they want.
The FTC is issuing a warning about a gruesome new type of phone scam targeting parents. If a cybercriminal chooses to contact you, they’ll scour your social media for photos of your children and send a text that includes violent threats against them. Some are even sending gory photos of dismembered corpses to hammer the point home!
The only way to stay safe, the scammer will say, is to pay the ransom included in the text message. And, of course, most parents will take a violent threat like this seriously. This helps the scammer pull in plenty of ill-gotten money.
This isn’t the only new tactic scammers are deploying, either. In the same warning bulletin, the FTC outlined a separate scam targeting immigrant families with deportation.
Here’s how it works: The scammers make a phone call or send a text pretending to be Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). They’ll claim their victim’s immigration status has been revoked or altered — and the only way to remain in America is to pay a bribe. Some will even go as far as claiming ICE or police have been dispatched to arrest the victim.
Of course, ICE doesn’t call anyone ahead of a raid — and it certainly wouldn’t ask for a bribe over the phone where supervisors could hear everything. It’s just another phony threat designed to play on real fears.
How can I protect myself and my family from these wild scam tactics?
As frightening as these messages and calls can be, neither of them should be taken seriously whatsoever. Gory photos, unfortunately, can be obtained on Dark Web forums with ease — and anyone can claim to be ICE or police over the phone if they’ve spoofed their number.
Instead of responding to the messages or paying the ransom, follow these steps to protect yourself:
- Don’t engage with the scammer. Be prepared for them to harass or bully you into paying. Do not send them money or respond. If they know they can get anything out of you, you can bet they’ll try again.
- Report these scams to the police and the FTC. A violent threat is a violent threat, which means you should report it regardless of whether or not it’s a scam. Contact your local police department and give them all the details about the message or call, and file a complaint with the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint. The more reports the FTC receives, the easier it will be to put a stop to these prolific scammers.
- Set your social media accounts to private. Scammers are able to tailor their threats more effectively if they can gather information about you. If you tend to overshare on social media, you make it much easier for them. Tap or click here to see why you might be oversharing.
- Remember that the government will never call you or text you with extortion threats. If you’re concerned about a call or message you received, look up the real-life agency’s phone number and confirm what happened with them.
As with any impostor scam, you’re only in trouble if you fall for the trick. These scams might be some of the most convincing yet, but now that you’re aware of the tactics, you’ll be much better off. Make sure to share this story with others so they’ll know what to do if a gory photo or threatening call makes its way to their phone.