A 77-year-old Indiana woman lost more $12,000 to a scam involving the cryptocurrency Bitcoin.
The Chicago Tribune reported that the Chesterton resident received an email in June, purportedly alerting her about fraudulent activity on her PayPal account.
The email said that nearly $500 had been taken out of the account and that she would need to call a phone number to fix the issue.
The woman called the number and a male voice with a foreign accent instructed her to purchase $3,500 in Bitcoin on the popular exchange platform Coinbase.
The male on the phone then offered to take her through the process himself, by accessing her smartphone via a screen-sharing technique. He also asked if he could access her checking account in order to help get back the lost PayPal money.
The woman agreed to all of the man’s requests and even provided the man with a state photo ID of herself.
Eventually, the woman realized that six withdrawals, totaling $8,800, had been taken out of her account. In addition to the $3,500 that was used to buy Bitcoin, the woman lost more than $12,000 dollars to the scammer.
Scams like this happen frequently, with the victims often being older people. Many victims are too ashamed to report the crimes to law enforcement.
“It does seem that at a certain age, too many people can be susceptible to these type of scams,” Chesterton police Sgt. Dave Virijevich told the Tribune. “These types of criminals prey on the genuine goodness of people. They’re preying on their trusting nature.”
“I’m guessing that this woman had never heard of Bitcoin until she was told to purchase this un-trackable, untraceable currency. And they’re perpetrating this crime from non-extradition countries, meaning these criminals will likely never get caught.”
Scammers—who are often from other countries—use special caller ID apps, which make it look like their number is that of a reputable institution.
“It’s really not from the U.S. Department of Treasury or the IRS, but it looks like it is,” Virijevich said. “A lot of older people aren’t even aware that these apps exist. They don’t think twice about its legitimacy.”
For example, the phone number used for this scam had a 202 prefix, which would suggest that it was from Washington, D.C.
“It was bogus from the start. But victims think it’s legit, and they need to comply with what they’re told,” Virijevich said. “They’re worried of having a warrant out for their arrest or whatever the scam may be. They’re frightened that U.S. marshals will come arrest them. It’s a crying shame.
“These criminals are psychological manipulators who are very good at what they do, sad to say. They are randomly dialing thousands of people’s phone numbers in our country. If only a handful of people fall for the scam, it’s very profitable for them. And if they live somewhere where the value of U.S. currency is higher, this woman’s loss of $12,000 here could represent a gain of $30,000 to $40,000 there.”
The woman from Chesterton eventually managed to get $2,000 of the money reimbursed by her bank. She has since closed the affected account and purchased a new cell phone, while also notifying the authorities of the crime.
Utah resident Brandon Larsen lost around $384,000 to scammers after downloading what he thought was a legitimate cryptocurrency app, CBS affiliate KUTV reported in June. The app, which turned out to be fake, was used by the scammers to steal his information.