Extortion Email Scams

On April 27, 2020, our office issued a scam alert to warn about an email extortion scam that has been contacting Vermonters.

The email threatens exposure of compromising home video and pictures, unless you pay, usually in Bitcoin. The email claims you have been hacked and may reference a current or former password you may have used. The sender claims that they have access to your computer and webcam and threatens to release embarrassing photos and video unless you send them money.

These emails are scams. If you receive one of these e-mails, DO NOT send money. Do not click on any links or attachments. If you find that your current password is listed in the email, change your passwords from another computer and run virus scans. To learn even more about this scam, scroll to the “Sextortion Scam” section of our online relationship scams blog.

You can help stop these scams from hurting your community by sharing this information with people you know.

Call us at 800-649-2424 if you have questions, concerns, or need help determining if you have been a victim of a scam.

Report these scams to the FBI’s Internet Crime Center at ic3.gov

For more information about how to protect yourself from email phishing scams, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website.

Stay safe online this Valentine’s Day!

Looking for love online? The Consumer Assistance Program is here to help you make sure that your personal information and money are secure!

Romance Scams

How it works: The scammer creates a fake profile on a dating site or app. They may also initiate contact through Instagram, Facebook, Words With Friends, or Google Hangouts. Then, the scammer strikes up a relationship with their victim, gains their trust, and maintains sustained contact.

Spotting the scam: The scammer spins a story and asks you to send them personal information or money. They may ask you to send gift cards, mail cash, or wire them money via Western Union or MoneyGram.

What to do: End all communications with the scammer. Block the individual and/or report them to the website or app company. Do not send money or reveal personal information such as: social security number, bank accounts, credit card numbers, photo of your driver’s license, etc. If you have sent money or given the scammer access to sensitive information, call the Consumer Assistance Program.

Source: Federal Trade Commission

For more information about Romance Scams, see our blog post from February 2018.

Sextortion Emails

How it works: You receive an email from an unknown source. The message claims that they know your passwords and have planted malware on your computer. They claim that the malware has captured evidence of all your computer activity – including sensitive photos or visits to adult websites.  They threaten to share this evidence with all of your email or social media contacts. The scammer demands hush money in the form of gift cards, Bitcoin, or wire transfers.

Spotting the scam: The message might look generic and have numerous typos. They demand that you respond quickly, maybe within 24 hours. The passwords they claim to have appear to be old or may be log-in information you use for a website.

What to do: Do not reply to the message. Do not send money or personal information. Change your passwords to ensure your online security, especially if a website you use has recently experienced a data breach. Do not click on any links or attachments on the email. Make sure that your antivirus software is up to date.

Adult Website Pop-Ups

How it works: You are visiting an adult website when a pop-up message appears. The pop-up might be flashing or include sound. The pop-up may claim to be “Windows Support” or state that “Your computer may have a virus!” It is designed to pressure the user into a sense of panic. The message might prompt you to call someone for technical assistance.

Spotting the scam: Real computer tech support specialists will never ask you to call them in this manner. The pop-up may demand immediate action, payment, or prompt you to download something.

What to do: Turn off your computer and disconnect from the internet. Make sure that your antivirus software is up to date and functioning. If necessary, you may decide to seek out assistance from a trusted tech support professional.

Remember: some scammers are betting that topics of romance and sex can be sensitive or even embarrassing. Please don’t let these feelings keep you from calling CAP to get help! The reality is that we regularly hear from consumers who have been affected by these scams. Pick up the phone and give us a call if you feel you may have been scammed: 1-800-649-2424.

Congratulations, You’re A Winner!

Have you received a letter, email, or even a Facebook message telling you that you have won a sweepstakes or lottery prize, such as thousands of dollars and a car? Have you been asked to send money to cover taxes or registration fees so that you can receive your prize? If so, you are being targeted by a common scam – no real sweepstakes prize would ask you to pay taxes or fees.

Sweepstakes Scam example

Scammers may pretend to be legitimate businesses such as Publisher’s Clearing House or Reader’s Digest, or may use a similar sounding name. You may even receive a check in the mail that looks legitimate. The scammers claim they have sent you some of your prize so you can use the money to cover the cost of fees or taxes. Do not deposit the check – it is fake! Scammers hope that you will send them real money from your account before the bank realizes that the check has bounced.

You may be instructed to not tell anyone about “winning” to protect your prize. This is an attempt to isolate you so your friends and family can’t warn you about the scam. Don’t take the scammer’s advice – call CAP at 1-800-649-2424 and we can help you determine if you are being scammed.

Remember: if you won a real sweepstakes prize, you would never need to pay a fee to claim your winnings. Never send money to get money!

Contributing Writer:  Annalee Beaulieu
Content Editor:  Crystal Baldwin

VT Scam Alert System is Live

Last week our office sent out the first scam alert through the VT Alert System to warn Vermonters about an active utility disconnection phone scam (listen to the alert here).

This exciting program started three weeks ago when the Attorney General’s Office partnered with Vermont Emergency Management to use their existing “VT Alert” emergency notification system. The system lets you get instant alerts by email, text message, or a phone message. We’ll be using this system to alert Vermonters about scams going around the state. You must sign up to get these alerts.  So far, 677 people have signed up through our website and over 3100 signed up through the VT Alert portal!

We don’t want to send out too many alerts, so we’ll only use the system to let you know about scams that are new, have changed, or are happening most often. We also might send you alerts about scams that are happening in your town or county specifically.

Signing up is free and easy. Call us at 802-656-3183 or 1-800-649-2424 (toll-free from a VT phone). You can also visit our website consumer.vermont.gov and click on “Sign Up for Scam Alerts!”  You can choose to get alerts by text message, email, or a prerecorded telephone message from Attorney General Donovan.

We want to help you stay informed and stay ahead of scammers trying to defraud Vermonters.  Once you sign up for the Scam Alert System, we encourage you to spread the word by sharing the alert message with your friends, family, neighbors, and communities.  Together we can get informed, spread the word, and stop the scams.

Example of an email alert:

VT Alert Scam Alert Example

Our office would like to extend a special thank you to our partner at the Vermont Department of Pubic Safety, Emergency Management System–and in particular Director Erica Bornemann, Public Information Officer Mark Bosma, and Administrator Randy Bronson.

VT Alert Logo

 

 

 

Contributing Writer: Crystal Baldwin