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Cryptocurrency latest tool of scammers

As technology has advanced, so have scammers and their tactics for stealing people’s money. The newest form of financial theft — cryptocurrency.

“Frauds and scams are certainly perpetuated on a regular basis,” said David Kalinoski, the associate state director for outreach and advocacy at AARP. “Scammers follow the headlines, so whatever the latest headline or craze is, you can be assured that scammers will find a way to bilk people out of their money.”

According to the Federal Trade Commission, as cryptocurrency has become so popular that Bitcoin ATMs have been installed in grocery stores and crypto-trading platforms were advertised during the Super Bowl, fraud involving cryptocurrencies has skyrocketed over the last three years with losses exceeding $1 billion in 2022.

Kalinoski has worked for AARP for 36 years and has been managing and educating Pennsylvanians about fraud and scams for over 15 years. According to him, cryptocurrency, especially Bitcoin, have several features that benefit scammers.

“First of all, there’s no bank or other centralized authority that is able to regulate or flag suspicious transactions and try to stop the fraud before it happens,” Kalinoski said. “Secondly, once somebody makes a transfer with cryptocurrency, it can’t be reversed. Once the money is gone, there’s no getting it back. Thirdly, most people are still unfamiliar with how cryptocurrency works, and that all plays into the scammer’s benefit.”

Kalinoski has seen many scams and how they have evolved. For example, romance scams have shifted from getting money from the victim’s bank accounts or credit cards to fake cryptocurrency investment opportunities.

Scammers tend to target individuals who are more likely to believe their scams, such as seniors, people who are lonely and those who are very trusting.

“With seniors, sometimes those people are living alone,” Kalinoski said. “If you get a friendly voice on the other line, that’s like a newfound friend. Scammers know how to trick and manipulate people and come across as real friendly.”

Scamming shame

Kalinoski said some victims don’t admit to being scammed because of shame. He suggests younger family members who suspect the senior in their lives has been scammed to look through the senior’s finances for transactions that are out of the ordinary or multiple transactions in a short amount of time.

“You may not realize this until you go back and look at that loved one’s checkbook or online transactions, and unfortunately it’s sometimes after the fact,” Kalinoski said.

Some of the victims’ shame comes from the reaction society has for those who succumb to online scams.

“It’s really challenging sometimes when it comes to individuals who are in those types of settings because there is so much in society about victim-blaming,” Kalinoski said. “We would like to change the narrative on this conversation, so that media and law enforcement can start treating it like the crime that it is. It’s no less of a crime than if somebody held you up at gunpoint and took your wallet or purse.”

Types of scams

Another tactic Kalinoski is familiar with is when a scammer creates fake celebrity social media accounts that promote cryptocurrency scams through giveaways and endorsements.

“Anyone can take a picture of a celebrity and put it on an account,” Kalinoski said.

According to Kalinoski, to hook a victim, scammers often use tactics to “get people in the ether,” or tricking them with get-rich-quick schemes or putting that person in a heightened emotional state through creating fear.

Specifically, these tactics can include jury duty scams, bench warrant cons and “person-in-need scams” (also known as grandparent scams, where the caller pretends to be a grandchild in need of emergency funds).

“This fear factor, this sense of urgency, these are all tools used by scammers to get people in the ‘ether’ so that they’re not thinking rationally, they are thinking emotionally” Kalinoski said.

Report scams

Once the realization that a crime has happened, it is critical that a police report is made, in addition to contacting the Federal Trade Commission or the FBI.

“I would insist on a police report, even if the police don’t want to come out and take anything,” Kalinoski said. “Your ability to get any type of restitution, or your money back, lies in the fact that you have a documented report. You can never overreport.”

Scam avoidance tips

The best way to avoid being scammed is to pay close attention to information given from local police and AARP’s Fraud Watch Network. People can sign up at www.aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork or text “FWN” to 50757 to get access to biweekly posts on the newest scams and how to avoid them.

AARP’s Fraud Watch Network also includes the ability for those who have been scammed or nearly scammed to post their stories on their Scam-Tracking Map. The map includes information on where it happened, when, the scam type, contact method and more.

Additionally, following gut instincts can keep assets safe and scare scammers away.

“If it doesn’t feel right, hang up, because they probably are not going to call back,” said Butler County Sheriff Michael Slupe.

Become educated

On request, Slupe and other members of law enforcement lead scam prevention seminars in an effort to educate the public and help prevent more victims.

“The more people that are educated and empowered, the better,” Slupe said. “We try to put information on Facebook to let people know that there is another scam going on. And there’s always another scam, always.”

Slupe and Kalinoski agree that keeping up with the news on scams and remembering red flags can stop scammers in their tracks.

“If you can spot a scam, you can stop a scam,” Kalinoski said. “Only scammers will guarantee profits or big returns. Nobody legitimate will require you to buy cryptocurrency, so when people try to make payments through cryptocurrency or gift cards, know it's a real red flag and you need to protect your money.”

As for romance scams, Kalinoski recommends never mix online dating and investment advice.

As cryptocurrency becomes more prominent, it is important to be educated on the topic before making any important financial decisions.

“If you don’t understand it, please don’t invest in it without doing your due diligence and research on it and make sure it’s something that you feel comfortable with,” Kalinoski said. “Like with any investment, know what the guardrails are, know how much you are willing to lose.”

Kalinoski expects there to be more romance scams during February because of Valentine’s Day and more IRS scams during tax season.

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