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Ransomware and Cyber Scams: Even the D.C. Police Aren’t Off-Limits

Ransomware attacks show no signs of slowing. They’re getting to hospitals, city agencies, and oil supplies, as shown in the Columbia Pipeline drama. And a new ransomware group called the Babuk Locker gang struck the Washington, D.C. police department in April. After they pulled off a ransomware attack, the Babuk gang threatened to send files on police informants they’d siphoned from the Metropolitan Police Department to the infiltrated groups. The D.C. police went to the FBI for help. Notably, the Babuk gang threatened to hack the FBI, too.

Companies that develop artificial intelligence that can stay a step ahead of hackers are in great demand today. And some of their best customers are police and other city agencies trying to avoid computer shutdowns and extortion.

Fraudsters typically encrypt the data they steal, so the agencies cannot get into their own computer files. Then, the hackers hold the information for ransom, threatening to expose what the administrations have. For ransom, they might demand bitcoin. The same attackers who hacked the D.C. police went after the Houston Rockets earlier this spring, demanding bitcoin from the basketball firm. The Rockets reported that their cybersecurity system kept the intrusion from becoming a full-blown crisis.

Ransomware can also target individuals and small business owners. Hackers can take over people’s private information and photos, and threaten to expose them unless someone pays. Often, the scammer demands the ransom in bitcoin.

What can we do? A few things: Use antivirus and anti-malware protection. Be cautious about using public WiFi. And if we see something suspicious, we should get it checked out sooner rather than later.

If a Company Asks for Bitcoin, Wait a Minute

This month, a small business owner in Louisiana forked over $2,100 in bitcoin to a scammer who threatened to turn off her electricity. The scammer called from an 800 number, pretending to be the Entergy electric company. The imposter insisted that the small business was late on its bill, and demanded bitcoin.

The scammer directed the business owner to a corner store bitcoin machine, and sent the business owner a barcode over the phone, showing the amount to withdraw from the machine. The withdrawal was made, and the scammed business owner even got a receipt over the phone. Because the ploy was technologically complex, the business owner believed it.

The business owner made a call later to the Entergy to check that the payment was applied. Of course, the company had no idea what the customer was talking about and $2,100 had not been applied to the account. It was obvious that a scam had just played out.

What can we do? If we’re asked to buy bitcoin, wire money, or purchase debit cards, we need to call the company and find out what’s up. Utility firms aren’t accepting bitcoin, nor do companies demand immediate payment out of the blue.

One More Scam to Look Out For: Penny Stock Pumps

Penny stocks are hot these days, and it’s important to avoid getting burned. Stocks under $5 are pushed through the media, paper mail, spammy emails, and phone calls. The sellers might claim:

  • Getting rich off the stock is a sure bet. No way. Guaranteed profits don’t happen on the stock market. When someone suggests buying a stock because it’s low now and should go up soon, it may be a pump-and-dump scheme. In other words, a lot of people are encouraged to buy, and then there’s a selloff, with innocent people left holding the bag.
  • The stock is a hot trend. Individuals need to be extra careful with celebrity stocks, new trends, suggestions that the Biden administration will make the stock go up for sure, or fantastic health claims related to the stock. Hot trends are constantly left hanging and replaced by newer ones.

What can we do? Harmful stock scams can be reported to (202) 727-8000. That’s the number for the Enforcement and Consumer Protection Division of the D.C. Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking.

The internet is one of the great innovations of our time. But we need to protect ourselves from those who don’t use it for good.

Supporting References

Lance Whitney for TechRepublic: Ransomware Attack Hits Washington, D.C. Police Department (Apr. 28, 2021). Available at: https://www.techrepublic.com/article/ransomware-attack-hits-washington-d-c-police-department/

Sylvia Masters for CBS News: Eye on Scams – Woman Conned Out of $2,100 in Entergy Bitcoin Scam (May 13, 2021). Available from KLFY News 10, Lafayette, LA: https://www.klfy.com/eye-on-scams/eye-on-scams-woman-conned-out-of-2100-in-entergy-bitcoin-scam/

Commissioner Karima M. Woods, D.C. Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking: Warning Signs of a Penny Stock Scam. Available at: https://disb.dc.gov/page/warning-signs-penny-stock-scam

Samantha Murphy Kelly for CNN Business: Ransomware Took Down the Colonial Pipeline. You Could Be at Risk Too (May 14, 2021). Available at: https://www.cnn.com/2021/05/14/tech/ransomware-attacks/

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