Not just on the lookout for new people to scam, fraudsters are also constantly searching for new ways to steal others’ money.
Bitcoin-related scams have been around for a while, but police in Regina have seen a significant jump in these offences within the past year.
As with other frauds, the best offence is in defence, so police are asking the public to stay alert to avoid being victimized.
Partners in the Regina Police Service’s Commercial Crimes Section, Sgt. Kelley Berting and Sgt. Bryant Westerman have had their hands full with cases involving people defrauded — often of significant amounts of money — through Bitcoin scams. While Commercial Crimes has only recently begun to specifically track Bitcoin fraud, Berting says her experience is that the numbers have been quite significant.
“In a general sense, I would say we get at least probably five reports a week,” she said. “And that could be from $500 up to $60,000. So huge amounts of money.”
And those are just the people who are reporting scams involving the cryptocurrency. As with any fraud, there are many more out there who don’t come forward.
“We know that fraud is grossly underreported,” Berting said. “A lot of people don’t want to talk about fraud once it’s happened because they’re embarrassed or they feel guilty.”
Berting and Westerman pointed out no one should feel guilty or embarrassed for being victimized. Those carrying out scams like this are often professional con artists who are very good at what they do.
Unfortunately, they are also very good at doing it on an international scale. Because of that, and because of the very nature of Bitcoin, it’s currently next to impossible to get your money back once you’ve sent it away.
Which is why the Commercial Crimes Section is doing what it can to push as much information out to the public as possible, in the hopes people will recognize the warning signs before falling victim.
While scams change with the times, police in Regina are currently seeing a couple in particular connected with Bitcoin: Con artists pretending to be police or a government entity, such as the Canada Revenue Agency. Fraudsters use an app to mask where they’re calling from and can even duplicate existing numbers — including the RPS’s main line.
“They’ll identify themselves as being a police officer, they’ll give a fake name and badge number, which is more convincing to the person who’s receiving the call,” said Berting. “As soon as people hear ‘police’ and ‘there’s a warrant for your arrest,’ they get panicked.”
Sometimes, scammers will also have a few pieces of personal information about their victims, making themselves seem more legitimate. With threats of arrest or other ramifications, would-be victims aren’t always in a state to think critically about the fact they’re being asked to pay their taxes or fees at a Bitcoin machine.
Often, by the time people realize what’s happened, it’s too late. While credit cards or cheques have safeguards in place to counter fraudulent purchases, not so for Bitcoin. Once the money’s gone, it’s gone, Berting and Westerman said.
“Now that it’s gone to this cryptocurrency, it’s just made it that much harder for us to assist anyone who becomes a victim of fraud,” Berting said.
The unit has produced posters which they’ve placed at Bitcoin machine locations around the city. Commercial Crimes has also tried reaching out to Bitcoin companies in the hopes they will impose security measures, such as a temporary hold on funds similar to cheques.
Police ask people to bear in mind that government agencies will never ask for payment in Bitcoin and police never call to solicit money. Nor will legitimate agencies request payment in prepaid credit cards, gift cards, wire transfers or direct deposit to personal accounts.
Anyone contacted by someone demanding money and claiming to be from a legitimate agency should hang up, then look up the proper number for that agency and call to confirm. If you believe you’ve been the victim of fraud, call the RPS at 306-777-6500 or your local police agency.