The frightening blackmail ruse arrived by text to a New Mexico resident recently.
The message warned the victim that one of his social media accounts had been hacked, and that his private photos and information were circulating to others. The cost of putting a stop to it: $400.
Next, the victim got a text message from someone claiming to be with the Albuquerque Journal, saying that the stolen goods would be published in the paper “by 9” unless the victim paid up whatever “you can afford.”
This kind of scam is called sextortion, in which the hacker claims to have stolen private images or video and threatens to make them public.
The recent advisory from the FBI in New Mexico cited “an explosion” of these cases that are targeting children.
The agency said it received 168 online tips or calls about possible cases in New Mexico through Dec. 19, although it says some of the tips might reference the same incidents. That compares to 38 such tips or calls in the same period last year.
The agency describes a “horrific increase” in reported schemes that target male teens through fake female accounts. The predator convinces the young person to produce and send explicit images, and then threatens to release them publicly unless the victim sends money or gift cards, the FBI says.
It says adults should discuss this crime with their kids and should report it by calling 1-800-CALL-FBI, or online at tips.fbi.gov.
The Bank of Albuquerque is warning of a seasonal increase in fraud efforts that hit people by text, email and phone.
Do not respond to unusual messages that appear to be from the bank. Instead, contact the bank directly if you have any questions about your account or if the message causes you concern.
“Not only are scammers getting more sophisticated in their efforts, but they’re taking advantage of the fact that everyone is possibly distracted during this busy time of year,” Kyle Beasley, the bank’s New Mexico market CEO, said in an advisory.
Who doesn’t want a tax refund?
And that’s exactly the thinking behind a new twist on the age-old IRS scam.
Instead of making threats to people regarding a supposed tax debt, the impersonators are sending legitimate-looking text messages about a “tax rebate” or some other refund or tax benefit they are owed, the FTC says.
“IRS impersonators have been around for a while,” the FTC says. “But as more people get to know their tricks, they’re switching it up.”
The text includes a link to pursue this supposed windfall, but resist the temptation. Clicking on it will expose you to identity theft or malware installed on your phone.
It’s a little early for tax season, but keep in mind that the IRS’ initial contact with you won’t be by phone call, email or text. Instead, it will send a letter.
If you want to be sure of your status after receiving a suspicious contact, you can always call the IRS at 800-829-1040. You can check the status of a refund at https://sa.www4.irs.gov/irfof/lang/en/irfofgetstatus.jsp
Contact Ellen Marks at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-823-3972 if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the New Mexico Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1-844-255-9210, prompt 5. Complaints can be filed electronically at nmag.gov/file-a-complaint.aspx.