Vancouver police are warning the public to be cautious when transferring cash to individuals they meet online, after an "alarming increase" in cryptocurrency scams resulted in local victims losing almost $2 million in the span of just one week.
Cryptocurrency scams involve fradulent versions of digital or virtual currency, like Bitcoin, that when verified function as an online version of cash. According to police, cryptocurrency frauds are often difficult to investigate. "Chances of locating and identifying a suspect are low, as suspects are often based overseas and mask their identity through sophisticated, untraceable VPN[s]," police explained in a news release issued Friday morning.
Investigators from the Vancouver Police Department's (VPD) Financial Crime Unit say they have noticed the recent surge in scams frequently follows one of two similar patterns.
In what police call a "romance scam," the victim is initially approached through social media or an online dating site. After the suspect indicates a romantic interest, they will "groom" the victim over a period of time as a way of convincing them to invest in virtual currency, all the while making excuses as to why the two cannot meet in person. In the end, the victim invests in a fake cryptocurrency company and, as a result, loses all of that money.
An "investment scam," meanwhile, similarly begins with a victim being approached via social media. The suspect forms a friendship with the victim, eventually persuading them to purchase digital currency through what, in reality, is a fake cryptocurrency company. The victim invests their money and, for a period of time, sees fabricated returns that they assume are real. When the victim tries to withdraw their money, they are unable to do so. It's at this point that the suspect typically ceases communication.
“Predators will often exploit two powerful human emotions – greed and love,” explained VPD Const. Tania Visintin. “Victims are typically lured in with the idea that they will be a part of an opportunity to make money or in other cases, they will be doing a friend or romantic interest a favour.”
As such, it's a crime that investigators say they believe is underreported, "as victims often feel shame or embarrassment, making them reluctant to come forward to police,” Visintin added.
Police remind anyone who may be suspicious about making personal money transfers to someone they met online to call their local police department.