Bitcoin. All the cool criminals are using it. Again, the Guelph Police Service are warning members of the public to beware of scams where people are posing as government agencies and demanding payment with cryptocurrency, specifically Bitcoin. Sadly, it’s not the first time this year that someone’s lost a lot of money from a scam like this, but police want it to be the last.
On Monday, a 27-year-old Guelph woman reported to police that she received a call from someone claiming to be from the Canadian Border Services Agency, who said that they had a seized a package with her name on it that contained trafficking materials. She was told she had to pay a fine of $8,050 via Bitcoin, and deposited $7,750 into a downtown Bitcoin machine before she became suspicious of the call. When police tried the number again, it was out of service, and they have no other viable leads.
Of course, this is not even the first time this year that the police have warned about a local Bitcoin scam.
Back in September, there was a similar incident where someone posing as a government employee told a Guelph woman that there was a warrant out for her arrest after a parcel shipped in her name was found to have illegal contents. She was told the only way to resolve the matter was to send Bitcoin, and she deposited $4,900 into a Bitcoin machine in a store at the corner of Woolwich and Speedvale.
In February, another Guelph woman got a call from someone claiming to be from Service Canada who said that they had detected fraudulent activity on her bank accounts. After asking for the phone number of the local police, that caller hung up, and a second caller contacted the woman claiming to be a Guelph police officer who informed her that she needs to withdraw all the money from her account and deposit it into a Bitcoin machine.
Before that in January, a 71-year-old woman lost $9,000 to a Bitcoin scam when an unknown caller claiming to be a police officer told her that her social insurance number had been found at a crime scene and that her bank accounts were compromised. This “officer” also advised the victim to withdraw all funds from their back account and deposit them into a Bitcoin machine.
Bitcoin, and other cryptocurrencies, have become a popular among criminals because it’s more difficult to trace those transactions versus cash and the standard e-transfers that you do through your bank. It’s difficult, but not impossible. Here’s an explanation from the journal Science about why it’s so hard to trace a Bitcoin transaction back to the criminal:
“The challenge is that the Bitcoin network is designed to blur the correspondence between transactions and IP addresses. All Bitcoin users are connected in a peer-to-peer network over the Internet. Data flow between their computers like gossip in a crowd, spreading quickly and redundantly until everyone has the information—with no one but the originator knowing who spoke first.”
Guelph Police are reminding everyone take precautions like not providing any information to a caller you don’t know, and not to follow any instructions from them either. If someone calls claiming to be Canadian Border Services or the Canada Revenue Agency, hang up right away and get in touch with the service directly if you’re concerned. Do not believe any threats of arrest, because those agencies will not call you and ask you if you want to talk to an operator if you were in real trouble.
And last, but least, no government agency at any level will ask you to pay a fine with either gift cards or cryptocurrencies.