Last Friday, the FBI announced that it had recovered almost 3 million dollars worth of Bitcoins that were the proceeds of a scam operated by as of yet unidentified scammers perpetrating an elaborate phone scam on elderly Americans and first generation American citizens. The scammers used the technique of spoofing to make their phone calls which originated outside of the United States to appear on their victims’ Caller ID as being from American law enforcement agencies. In these calls, the scammers would tell their victims that their identities had been stolen and that in order to be protected from further damage, they needed to transfer money to the scammers for “safekeeping.” The victims were further told that when the non-existent identity thieves were captured, their money would be returned to them with interest.
Victims of the scam transferred money to the scammers who then laundered the money through multiple bank accounts and eventually converted the funds to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Fortunately, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office were able to trace the funds and ultimately found a digital wallet holding the stolen funds that had been converted into cryptocurrencies. Under the civil asset forfeiture laws of the United States, they were able to get a court order to recover all of the funds in the digital wallet while the investigation continues to identify and locate the scammers behind the scam. Regardless of whether the scammers are ever found, the funds will still be able to be returned to the victims.
Whenever you get a phone call, text message or email, you can never be sure as to who is really contacting you. Phone calls can be spoofed to make the call appear as if it is coming from a legitimate source and emails and text messages can similarly be disguised to appear legitimate. No one should ever make a payment or provide personal information in response to any phone call, email or text message unless they have absolutely confirmed that the communication was legitimate. Families of elderly people or otherwise vulnerable people should impress upon their family members the importance of following these rules.
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