The FBI has warned of an imminent influx of cryptocurrency based crime, with criminals using the spread of the coronavirus to steal money. The agency warns that organized criminal gangs will target those of all ages with a variety of scams, with funds laundered via digital currencies, and urges everyone to be on the lookout.
Fraudsters Using Coronavirus to Exploit the Vulnerable
The FBI took the unusual step of issuing a warning via a press release on its website where stated that, “Fraudsters are leveraging increased fear and uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic to steal your money and launder it through the complex cryptocurrency ecosystem.”
They warn specifically about four types of schemes they anticipate taking precedence as criminals seek to exploit the current crisis:
Blackmail attempts – criminals claim to know something incriminating or embarrassing about you and demand Bitcoin in return for their silence. The FBI warns that this classic scam has now taken a twist with the advent of coronavirus – the scammers claim to be able to infect targets with the disease if they don’t pay up.
Work from home scams – Scammers pose as employers offering work from home jobs, then ask applicants to accept a “donation” of funds into their bank accounts and then take them to a crypto kiosk/ATM. This money is likely stolen from others and is a way for them to get the money turned into Bitcoin without compromising themselves.
Paying for non-existent treatments or equipment – Criminals have set up websites pretending to sell emergency healthcare equipment and provide treatments to help with treating COVID19, with payment in cryptocurrency. Of course, the whole thing is a scam and the money is laundered.
Investment scams – The FBI warns that the usual crypto investment scams that promise guaranteed returns will be on the increase in these times when many people are in financial trouble and will turn to any avenue that looks promising.
Report Any Solicitation Attempts to Police
As with any online approach by a person or organization unknown, take great care in how you interact with them, and report any threats for money to the relevant authorities.
The FBI has an entire team within its Criminal Investigative Division dedicated to preventing and combating cryptocurrency frauds. They can be contacted through your local field office or via the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov.