Are you investing in cryptocurrency? It’s a decentralized form of digital money that has made quite a few people rich overnight. That’s also why it’s a perfect cover for cybercrime and online scams.
Fraud involving cryptocurrency is incredibly common. In fact, cryptocurrency scams were the reason that some of the most famous Twitter accounts in the world got hijacked. Tap or click here to see one of the biggest and strangest hacks in history.
And with cybercrime at an all-time high, crypto scams are also on the rise. That’s why the FBI is issuing an urgent warning to Americans about threats posed by crypto scammers during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you want to avoid getting fleeced, here’s what you need to watch out for.
Crypto is up, and so are crypto scams
The FBI has issued a warning bulletin about several common cryptocurrency scams that have emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic. At a time when many people are already struggling financially, these scams have the potential to wreak havoc on unsuspecting bank accounts.
Based on the FBI’s findings, there are four main types of crypto scams circulating. Here’s how they work, and what you can expect to see and hear when you encounter the cybercriminals behind them:
Blackmail scams: If you’ve ever received a sextortion email, you already know what this is like. Scammers are emailing victims with threats about access to personal information or dirty secrets. In exchange for keeping these secrets under wraps, the scammers demand a Bitcoin ransom. Some scammers even go as far as threatening you and your family with COVID-19 itself.
Work from home scams: Scammers will pose as employers looking to hire workers for “financial activities.” What they’re really doing, however, is using your bank account as a mule for stolen money. The scammer will ask you to accept a donation of funds as part of your job, and if you do, you’re now a de facto accomplice in their crime.
Fake COVID-19 treatment scams: Scammers are attracting online shoppers with enticing offers of products and equipment they claim can cure or prevent COVID-19. But there’s a catch: You have to pay in cryptocurrency. If you make the payment, the products never arrive and your money is good as gone.
Investment scams: Scammers are pitching fraudulent investments in unknown kinds of cryptocurrencies to trick victims into sending them money. Cryptocurrencies rise and fall in popularity, and jumping on to a new brand of crypto can potentially net you a good chunk of change — if you’re lucky. But the new crypto they promise is fake, and the scammers run off with your money.
What can I do to protect myself against cryptocurrency scams?
There are plenty of real websites, investments and charities that do use cryptocurrency. But if any of them follow the formats mentioned above or pressure you into using crypto over regular money, consider it a major red flag.
The FBI suggests following these tips below to keep yourself safe from fraud:
- Always verify whether a vendor or charity is real and accepts cryptocurrency before making a payment. Some scammers will masquerade as big-name companies and charities that don’t accept crypto with the intent of stealing from victims.
- Always do extensive research on any investment opportunities. If you’re the first investor, you’re not safe.
- Legitimate work-from-home jobs will not ask you for your bank account unless it’s for direct depositing paychecks. Otherwise, never give your personal bank information to anyone whose name isn’t on the account.
- If you feel pressured to pay out blackmail or a ransom, call law enforcement before converting your money to cryptocurrency.
If you get a threatening or suspicious email discussing cryptocurrency, delete it immediately. Do the same thing with suspicious text messages, and avoid picking up the phone for calls you don’t recognize. Phone scams are another huge threat targeting Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic. Tap or click to see why it’s happening.
If you’d like to report a suspected cryptocurrency crime, or if you’ve been victimized by fraud, the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division has an entire team dedicated to cryptocurrency money laundering and frauds. Contact your local FBI field office or visit the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov.
Scammers may switch up their tactics every so often, but they’re only effective if they’re able to trick you. If you ignore and report them, they won’t be a problem at all.