By CCN: Crypto-oriented phone scams are alive and well across the country. One sneaky tactic involves posing as law enforcement, a crime in and of itself, and then blackmailing victims into paying Bitcoin to avoid legal troubles.
Following a case of precisely that in Berkeley, California, New York City police are actively pursuing a broader strategy to combat such scams, and it involves participation from companies that operate Bitcoin ATMs.
NYPD & Bitcoin Startups Crack Down on Phone Scams
According to the city’s website, police are working with Bitcoin ATM providers “regarding their electronic scam messaging and texts and placing NYPD Scam Alert Cards at stores where machines are located.”
Typically, the scam goes like this:
“Victims are contacted by the ‘Social Security Administration’ and advised that their Social Security number has been used to open numerous accounts or is involved in some sort of drug trafficking or money laundering operation. To protect their money or to avoid being arrested, victims have to send various sums of money to help resolve the situation. The most common forms of payment requested are prepaid gift cards, Bitcoin and bank wire transfers.”
“In many of the cases, a person posing as a ‘Police Officer’ or ‘Law Enforcement Official’ will intimidate or threaten victims to gain compliance. Victims are told that they will be arrested and/or their assets will be frozen. Scammers have claimed to be NYPD, FBI, NYS Police, Texas PD and LAPD.”
Scams Mount Now That Phone Spoofing Is Easier Than Ever
Due to a design choice in the telephone system, people with the appropriate software can “spoof” their phone number, appearing to call from a number they have no control over. In the case of Berkeley, a police impersonator appeared to be calling from the police department. According to investigators, similar scammers have claimed everything from the Texas State Police to the FBI and NYPD.
Scammers target people who are not intimately familiar with the workings of cryptocurrency, getting them to purchase Bitcoin and send it to them. These tactics have been used in other types of scams, such as “sextortion” schemes around the world. The scams we have come across, of this nature at least, have so far netted little to no money, at least based on the addresses provided.
Victims may be embarrassed to come forward for various reasons, but this is what scammers count on. We ask that anyone who has been successfully scammed in this manner to please reach out to both law enforcement and CCN. We want more insight into how the scams play out.
Old Dogs Learning New Tricks
Telephone scams have hoodwinked victims almost since Alexander Graham Bell first patented the device in the late 19th century.
The scams in question are likely less successful because most people are aware that, even in a case where you might be in trouble, reporting a dirty cop is likely to get you in less trouble. In the cases where scams claim the funds are for official purposes, people would question why there was no official documentation. But the scams must occasionally succeed if they are continuing, so we’re asking our readers to provide both us and law enforcement more details.
If you aren’t in the San Francisco Bay area or New York City, contact your local police first. FBI will get involved with these cases eventually, as they are likely of a multi-state nature. All the same, be wary of anyone who calls and demands Bitcoin, for any reason. In the worst case scenario, where you were facing some charges or whatever else they threaten, paying them off is only going to leave you poorer – not in any less trouble.
As the NYPD writes:
“Individuals will never be contacted by the NYPD, Social Security Administration or any Law Enforcement Agency and be asked to submit money or information over the phone. If contacted by anyone claiming to represent any such agency and asking for money, New Yorkers should immediately hang up the phone.”