Alaskans are the most ripped off in the country and lost $14.2 million last year

John Havrilek, 73, of Petersburg, was tricked into a phishing scam posing as his internet service provider, GCI. (Photo by Angela Denning/KFSK)

Alaska is the most ripped off state in the country per capita. So far this year, there have been nearly a thousand fraud reports. As CoastAlaska’s Angela Denning reports, some scammers pretend to be local businesses, forcing residents to be extra vigilant.

When John Havrilek, 73, of Petersburg, saw an email from GCI, his internet service provider, he read it carefully. There had been changes in his services recently and he wanted to know what was next.

“It looked very legit,” he said. “It had the GCI logo on it and everything.”

He told him that to continue the services to respond with his account and password, which he did. The next thing he knew was that some friends contacted him.

“One call after another, the people we had on our mailing list called us up and said, did you just email me? And it’s from people all over the place. countries and parents and things like that,” Havrilek said. “And I said, ‘No.’ And they said, ‘Well, we just got an email from you saying, ‘Hi, are you busy and could you email me? Sincerely John.

A few friends replied to the email and they told Havrilek that the scammers – posing as him – wanted something specific.

“They said, ‘Oh, I’m trying to get a $300 Amazon gift certificate, could you help me? ” says Havrilek.

As far as Havrilek knows, none of his friends gave money to the scammers. He changed his email account and contacted GCI about it.

This type of scam, called an impostor or phishing scam, is by far the most common type in Alaska. It’s when someone pretends to be someone else to get money. Sometimes it’s a familiar person and other times they pretend to be from organizations like the FBI, Social Security, IRS, or banks.

They all have one thing in common. There is a problem.

“Either there is a problem or something you need to do,” said John Haley, assistant attorney general for the Alaska Department of Justice. “You no longer have access to your account, you must click on this link.”

Haley says the scammers will demand an immediate response and sometimes threaten to arrest victims.

“You know, I think most people would like to think they wouldn’t be fooled, but people are,” Haley said.

Alaskans lose a lot of money this way. Of the scams reported so far this year, residents have lost $5.5 million, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Last year it was $14.2 million.

“We have people going from store to store buying thousands and thousands of dollars worth of gift cards giving the money to a scammer who they believe is working for the IRS or the FBI,” Haley said.

Besides gift cards, they will often ask to be paid in bitcoin transfers or cryptocurrency.

GCI spokesman Josh Edge said the company is aware of scams using the GCI name and logo, such as one involving the Petersburg resident.

“Unfortunately, we very regularly receive reports of similar scams and phishing attempts,” he said.

Edge says it can sometimes be difficult to identify scams, but when in doubt, Alaskans shouldn’t hesitate to call GCI.

“If it looks suspicious at all, if they ask for personal information, passwords, etc., contact us directly,” Edge said.

According to Haley, while seniors lose the most money to fraud, it’s the 18 to 30-year-olds who get scammed the most. He says scammers will pay to know who to target.

“There’s a big market for information and some of it on the dark web and some of it outright in the open,” Haley said. “That way it’s easier for scammers to go out and buy information to try and find the right people to target, which I think is unfortunate.”

Scammers often work from other countries where US dollars are worth much more.

“You know, they’re able to rip someone off and make $5,000 out of it,” Haley said. “I mean, it’s kind of a tempting target.”

If someone gives scammers information by accident, Haley says they should consider freezing their credit card and bank accounts, at least temporarily. You can also call the Attorney General’s Office Consumer Protection Line at (907) 269-5200.

Other than that, the best line of defense is to stay alert.


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