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Media > Newsletters > Consumer Advocate > June 2024 > An effort to “protect” your money may be a ruse to steal it

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An effort to “protect” your money may be a ruse to steal it

Some of the latest impostor scams are more complex in design and particularly painful, costing some unsuspecting consumers their life savings.

This new style of fraud often begins with a “tech support professional” claiming that one of your bank, investment or retirement accounts has been compromised – and directing you to withdraw all of your money. If you do as he or she says, the fake professional maintains, your assets will be “protected.” In reality, the scammer is looking to steal every penny you’ve saved.

Spotting the scam early is crucial, so don’t waste time – or you could sacrifice your money and personal information. The scammer is likely to express a sense of urgency, which is your clue to take a deep breath and realize that your money is safe where it is now, with a legitimate financial institution or investment professional. Following the course of action recommended by the scam artist will only mean losing your money, not protecting it.

Some advice from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC):
  • Never disclose an online account-verification code to anyone who calls you, especially if the person claims to be from your bank’s fraud department. Sharing a verification code will allow the scammer to “prove” he or she is you and help the scammer drain your account.
  • If you receive communication from a potential impostor, stop and immediately contact your financial institution or investment professional, using contact information listed on a legitimate statement from that bank or investment company. Calling a phone number supplied by the scammer will only play into the hands of the impostor, who will answer your call and pretend to be associated with your account.
A more complex “phantom hacker” impostor scam was announced in October 2023 by the FBI in Cleveland. This scam consists of three levels of impostors:
  1. Tech-support impostor. The scam begins with a phone call, a text message, an email or an online pop-up box directing the victim to call a phone number for “assistance.” The call leads to a tech-support impostor, who directs the consumer to download software to provide the “tech specialist” remote access the consumer’s electronic device. Once remote access is gained, the scammer falsely claims that the device has been hacked or is about to be hacked, then tells the consumer to check his or her financial accounts to see whether it contains any unauthorized charges. (Note: This allows the scammer to discover the specific financial institutions with which the victim has accounts.) Step 1 ends with the scammer telling the victim to expect a call from his or her financial institution’s fraud department.
  2. Financial institution impostor. A scammer impersonating an employee of the victim’s financial institution calls to inform the victim that a foreign hacker has gained access to his or her account. To “protect” the account, this impostor says, all the assets must be moved to a “safe” third-party account (at the Federal Reserve, for example, or another federal agency).
  3. Federal government impostor. A scammer pretending to represent a federal government agency “confirms” that the money in the victim’s account is “unsafe” and, as such, must be moved immediately to a new “alias” account to protect it. At this point (if it hasn’t already happened,), the victim might move all of his/her money to the “safe” account. 
“Victims often suffer the loss of entire banking, savings, retirement and investment accounts under the guise of ‘protecting’ their assets,” the FBI says.
The FBI provides practical tips to protect consumers from such a scam and urges victims to report phantom hacker scams to the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center at Remember: If you’re asked to transfer money to protect your money, you’re likely being scammed.

Consumers who suspect a scam or an unfair business practice should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at or 800-282-0515.