North Dakota resident shares scam ordeal — Here’s How to Avoid Being the Next Victim

North Dakota resident shares scam ordeal — Here’s How to Avoid Being the Next Victim

North Dakota Resident Shares Scam Ordeal — Here’s How to Avoid Being the Next Victim

Reposted from the Tri-State Livestock News

You open your computer one morning and you have a standard-looking pop-up from Microsoft telling you your computer needs support and has been hacked. It looks exactly like every sort of warning you’ve seen before.

This is what happened to a North Dakota resident, who wishes to remain anonymous and unknowingly fell victim to a sophisticated cyber scam. This notification came at the end of November and was the beginning of a month-long nightmare.

“I first tried to close the pop-up and it locked everything on my computer,” Anonymous said, “Turning my computer off didn’t make it disappear either. The pop-up instructed me to call a number for assistance and because one of my friends had recently suffered a situation with identity theft, out of panic, I called the number.”

On the other end of the phone was a very sympathetic man, who was trying to do everything possible to help the North Dakota victim get the computer unhacked.

“He told me that Microsoft offers security features that will protect me in the future that he could install, so I let him login to my laptop,” Anonymous said. “That was a big mistake.”

Over the course of several hours, the impersonator gained the victim’s trust by discussing several different security measures he could install. As the conversation went on, it turned in another direction.

“He then told me my banking contact, who I have known since he was 12 years old, was potentially scamming me,” Anonymous said. “He knew my contact’s name, personal details about them and again, reassured me — saying things like ‘because it is a smaller bank, they likely need to do some outsourcing work’ and that ‘my money was no longer safe.'”

He then even pulled up one of the victim’s accounts and it showed there was only $0.13 left, and the rest was being moved into Bitcoins. There should have been around $5,000 in the account. He then instructed that to keep the rest of the money safe, the victim needed to wire money to a Chase Bank account in California in smaller increments so the bank wouldn’t get suspicious. One thing the hacker started saying then was “Is anyone around?” and “You’re alone, correct?”, which was starting to make the victim a little uneasy.

“I had no idea what he was talking about with Bitcoins, but again, he knew so much personal information and my account details,” Anonymous said. “I also didn’t know most of the newer employees at my bank, so I did call my bank to talk about a transfer, and they did question if I really wanted to move money, but in the end, I said ‘yes.'”

This was all on a Friday and then the victim was supposed to wire additional money on Monday.

However, upon consulting with a friend over the weekend, who worked in IT and thought this sounded like it might be a scam, the victim immediately contacted their bank to report the incident.

“The hacker was expecting me to call for instructions to wire the rest of my money on Monday, so my bank contact had me call and put the hacker on speaker phone,” Anonymous said. “I told him that I was not going to wire anything, as I believed I was getting scammed. The hacker went on and on and my banker contact could not believe how in-depth he was getting.”

Then, once the victim’s banker spoke up, the hacker immediately stopped and said, “Who is there? You weren’t supposed to tell anyone else about this.”

The call may have ended, but the nightmare didn’t.

Because the victim had other sensitive information and personal details on the computer, the bank promptly closed accounts and assisted in navigating the aftermath of the scam, including changing passwords, securing accounts, changing debit and credit cards and addressing all potential vulnerabilities.

“There was a lot of information on my laptop,” Anonymous said. “It contained Social Security numbers, passwords and investment information. My bank was great at walking me through everything and additional security measures.”

It still took months to get everything resolved.

“I know others have lost more than I have, but I am telling my story because I want people to be more aware of this,” Anonymous said. “I hope that by sharing, it helps at least one person not fall victim to what I experienced.”

How You Can Protect Yourself

“The best protection against scams is awareness and understanding what scams are out there,” said Maggie Kramer-Jennings, CAFP, risk management officer at First Dakota National Bank.

Aside from information from your financial institution, Kramer-Jennings shared that you can also keep up to date on emerging scams by reviewing news articles and public resources, such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), or American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) websites.

“All of these can go a long way in being prepared,” Kramer-Jennings said. “Unfortunately, consumer information is more readily available than ever before through data breaches and other publicly available resources.”

Like the victim in North Dakota, Kramer-Jennings shared that impersonations are a large umbrella of scams and, according to the FTC, were the number one scam tactic in 2023, accounting for nearly $2.67 billion in consumer losses. Payment methods such as Cryptocurrency and Person-to-Person (P2P) are becoming increasingly popular with scammers, given their quicker payouts and tracking difficulties.

“Scams initiated under the ruse of device issues, such as pop-ups or technical support, are reemerging and show increased complexity,” Kramer-Jennings said. “Additionally, fraudsters’ best tactic is to rush and confuse their victims with a sense of urgency. Consumers tend to make rash decisions and actions when they believe immediacy is at play, especially in today’s fast-moving world.”

Also, there is a need to be extremely cautious with check payments. Check fraud is easily committed as it is low-tech and carries relatively low input costs.

“While nationwide usage is trending downward, checks continue to be a significant payment method in the agriculture industry, which creates significant risk potential,” said Nate Franzén, president – Ag Banking Division at First Dakota National Bank. “Check fraud can be particularly devastating to many farmers and ranchers as many not only have their deposit account balances, but often also have lines of credit with sweeps tied to their deposit accounts. Financial institutions are undoubtedly here to help their consumers affected by check fraud, however the claims process is not without challenges and can take time.”

Follow-up with check payees to ensure they received your check — especially when sent through the mail, he added.

In addition to awareness, Kramer-Jennings shared some additional tips to safeguard against scams:

  • Review accounts and statements regularly — Notify your financial institution of any irregularities right away
  • Never share your login credentials or multi-factor authentication information with anyone
  • Discuss what fraud prevention products and services may be right for you with your banker — many may be offered at low to no cost. These may include:
    • Digital banking allows consumers to review their accounts and transactions in a timely manner
    • Transaction alerts allow consumers to receive notifications on transactions exceeding a pre-set dollar value
    • Positive Pay for business accounts compares and verifies issued checks against checks presented for payment. Discrepancies are queued for customers to decide on whether to allow or return
    • ACH Blocks/Filters, similar to Positive Pay, allow business customers to customize parameters for payments and payees
  • Research before agreeing to a service or using your cards on less-than-reputable websites or unknown websites
  • Review your credit report. Consumers are entitled to one free annual credit report from each of the three credit bureaus, meaning consumers can request a report every four months to complete regular reviews.
  • Consider freezing your credit if you do not plan to apply for new accounts or loans

“With today’s technology, it is difficult to trust features, such as caller ID or saved contacts, as fraudsters can easily spoof phone numbers and even voices using artificial intelligence,” Kramer-Jennings said. “Review emails and messages carefully for red flags and to ensure they actually reference your financial institution. It is essential to discuss any activity with a trusted person or your financial institution before you take any action. If anyone is telling you not to trust your financial institution — that’s a serious red flag.”

Additionally, here are some other clear red flags you can look out for:

  • Misspellings or incorrect grammar
  • Urgencies or deadlines
  • Request to pay fees, dues, taxes or penalties
  • Instructions to utilize odd payment methods such as Gift Cards or cryptocurrency

At the end of the day, if you are feeling uneasy about someone you’ve spoken with, she advises you should take note of the person’s full name and then following the correspondence, call the institution on a trusted phone number or go into the institution to verify the person and situation. Keep in mind that while security protocols vary between each financial institution, consumers should remember that if your financial institution initiated the communication, they should already have your personal information and would not ask for it (i.e., passwords, Social Security Numbers, date of birth, account number(s), security codes, etc.)

“From the moment we are aware of any fraud, we work hand-in-hand with our customers to tailor a recovery plan — we provide guidance or additional resources on a case-by-case basis,” Kramer-Jennings said.

“Trust your gut and keep a level head,” she said. “If you ever have questions about something, the best practice is to take a step back and think about what is being asked and whether it truly makes sense.”