Online extortion scams are on the rise

The FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) has seen an increase in reports of online extortion scams during the current “stay-at-home” orders due to the COVID-19 crisis. Because large swaths of the population are staying at home and likely using the computer more than usual, scammers may use this opportunity to find new victims and pressure them into sending money. The scammers are sending e-mails 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.

SCAM COMMONALTIES:

Online extortion schemes vary, but there are a few common indicators of the scam. The following characteristics are not all-inclusive but should serve as red flags. 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.

  • The online extortion attempt comes as an e-mail 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 e-mail or letter to add a higher degree of intimidation to the scam. For example, the recipient’s user name or password is provided at the beginning of the e-mail or letter.
  • The recipient is accused of visiting adult websites, cheating on a spouse, or being involved in other compromising situations.
  • The e-mail 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 e-mail 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 e-mail 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.
TIPS TO PROTECT YOURSELF:
  • Do not open e-mails 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 e-mail. Be aware that many e-mails 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.

VICTIM REPORTING:

If you believe you have been a victim of this scam, reach out to your local FBI field office, and file a complaint with the IC3 at www.ic3.gov. Please provide any relevant information in your complaint, including the online extortion e-mail with header information and Bitcoin address if available.

Avoiding COVID-19 Scams

Fake testing kits, “cures” and “treatments” for the virus, counterfeit personal protective equipment (PPE), and email phishing scams are examples of schemes that have become popular recently. Not only are these scams taking people’s money, they also have potentially dangerous consequences.

Please view the video to learn more about precautions you can take to avoid becoming a victim yourself. We’ve also provided some resources for you to seek help if you have been the victim of a scam as well.

Resources & Links

FDA Health Fraud Program
https://www.fda.gov/consumers/health-fraud-scams

FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center
https://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx

National Center for Disaster Fraud
https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud

Scam alert: Callers posing as officers collecting fines

Some local residents have reported receiving telephone calls from a person stating that they are a police officer with the Dothan Police Department, although they may use any agency name that is appropriate depending on where you are located. The caller then states that you must pay a fine or face arrest. The caller then will happily process a credit card payment over the phone in the amount of the alleged fine, thereby preventing you from being arrested.

Please be advised that the Dothan Police Department absolutely does not collect fines. The City of Dothan Magistrate’s Office processes case settlements, including fines. In any case, positively no one will call you and process a payment for a fine over the phone in this manner. Case settlements, including fines and court fees must be paid to the Magistrate’s Office using an approved payment method either in person, via US mail, or online.

We are urging persons who receive a call from this caller to hang up immediately and do not provide any information to them. If you feel you may have fallen victim of this scam, please contact us at (334) 615-3000 or come to the lobby of the police department located at 210 North Saint Andrews Street Monday through Friday from 8 AM to 5 PM to file a police report. If you provided credit card information, please contact your financial institution to report the fraud and have a new card issued.

Internet Scam Leads to Armed Robbery

On the evening of March 19, 2018, investigators were called to the 1300 block of Alexander Drive in reference to a robbery of a person. It was quickly determined the victim was responding to an internet ad to purchase an item for sale.  When the victim arrived at this agreed upon location to make the purchase, the suspects snatched the money from the victim and left with the money and item they were alleging was for sale.  During the commission of this crime, at least one of the suspects was armed with a handgun that was intended to be used if the victim resisted during the robbery.

A K-9 was deployed and tracked to a nearby neighborhood where one suspect was located and taken into custody. As the investigation continued, the second suspect was located and taken into custody as well.  The two juvenile suspects have been arrested and charged with Robbery 1st degree.