Cryptocurrency scams cost Americans $1 billion in 2021 – CBS Pittsburgh


PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Cryptocurrency is a new type of digital money used entirely online, but the FBI estimates that 24,000 Americans were caught in scams involving it in the last year alone. The cost? Almost a billion dollars of hard-earned money from ordinary people.

KDKA investigator Meghan Schiller told the FBI Pittsburgh how her special agents are ready to help as more people start toying with cryptocurrency.

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It’s popular and just about everywhere in southwestern Pennsylvania. In the south side of Carson News and Lottery, you can catch a pop and some crypto.

“It’s like the Wild, Wild West of crypto,” said Zach Churchill of Carson News and Lottery. “Scan your wallet here, click on the crypto you want and it will put it directly in your wallet.”

But easy access to money not regulated by a bank or government carries risks.

“Victims lose anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few million dollars and if you can imagine, these scams and schemes usually involve a large number of individuals, so you can have a group of victims spread all over the country,” said the supervisory special agent. Eric Yingling of the FBI Pittsburgh.

He is the FBI Pittsburgh “crypto expert” and he says criminals looking for crypto don’t need to think outside the box.

“A lot of times it’s really traditional scams and schemes that we’ve seen for years, perpetrated with some kind of cryptocurrency twist,” he said, “get-rich-quick” investment scams, to the lottery scams, to age-old kidnapping and romance scams.

“A victim of romance fraud may be encouraged to go and send victim funds to the subject overseas and the quickest and easiest way to do this may be to go to their local gas station and to put money in and transmit it, and those funds are moved internationally instantly,” Yingling said.

Digital money is gone in a flash and there is no customer service or bank number to call to complain. Scammers and hackers target both individuals and large corporations.

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“Because the kind of industry growth is happening, it also opens up a whole bunch of opportunities for bad actors to exploit people’s interest in it, but also to use it for nefarious purposes. So as this technology evolves, the FBI needs to evolve with it, and we are certainly taking steps to achieve that,” Yingling said, like the recently announced National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team and of the new FBI Digital Currency Unit which will investigate all alleged reports. victims submit to IC3.gov.

“None of us, myself included, would ever want to consider ourselves a victim of one of these scams, but it’s just as important to report it to the FBI as soon as possible, because reporting it helps us to do our job faster to hold these people accountable and try to return the funds to the victims,” Yingling said.

West Mifflin’s Mike Smalley has just started using crypto and he’s already on the defensive.

“I avoided the scams; I mean you get the scam emails, but generally the sites are really secure, they’re pretty good,” Smalley said.

He keeps in mind the advice of the FBI:

  • Double and triple check website URLs and all hyperlinks
  • Never share your wallet’s private key or password
  • Never send crypto payments to people you meet online
  • Never trust anyone asking for direct payments or offering investment opportunities

“The huge advantage of crypto like gambling you can put a dollar in the slot machine and win 500 or 5000 even with that whereas in stocks you usually gradually increase over time as your investment 401Ks,” Smalley said.

KDKA Meghan Schiller asked: “So you looking for the thrill?”

“Yeah, what the heck,” Smalley said.

A thrill that Smalley knows can turn into flight with the click of a button.

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“Don’t put anything in there that you intend to lose or that you might lose,” he said.

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