The FBI has released a public service announcement about an intriguing cryptocurrency scam.
The FBI is alerting Americans about a new type of bitcoin ATM scam. A con artist persuades a victim to deposit cash into a cryptocurrency ATM and send the purchased coins to the con artist via a QR code-based address (via CoinDesk). While the scam itself is very low-tech, it is an interesting example of how criminals are leveraging crypto to “improve” on traditional approaches.
According to the organization, the fraudster would contact their victim and persuade them to pay money, either with promises of love or more riches or by impersonating a legitimate entity such as a bank or utility provider. After the mark has been persuaded, the fraudster will instruct them to withdraw cash (from their investment or retirement accounts) and proceed to an ATM that sells cryptocurrency and can scan QR codes. When the victim arrives, they’ll scan a QR code supplied to them by the fraudster, which instructs the machine to send any cryptocurrency purchased to the scammer’s address. The victim loses their money in an instant, and the scammer has successfully exploited them.
If this scam sounds familiar, it’s because it’s essentially a tech-enhanced version of wire transfer fraud. Someone will persuade their victim to send them money using any methods necessary, and then have them transmit it using a way that is difficult to trace and almost impossible to undo. The system is working as intended, much like with wire transfers; being able to utilize a QR code instead of typing in a long wallet address is also useful for authorized crypto purchases. It’s just that the money is going to someone else’s pocketbook instead of yours.
Scammers benefit from the crypto ATM approach in two ways: it can be less friction than sending a wire transfer, and the fraudster ends up with cryptocurrency rather than money. You must fill out a form for wire transfers, and you may give that form to a real person (who could potentially vibe-check you). When you use an ATM, you have less time to consider the idea that you’re going to transmit money to a stranger. And, if you’re a criminal looking to get their hands on Bitcoin, you won’t have to educate your victims how to acquire coins online and move them to another wallet because they’re likely already familiar with using an ATM and scanning a QR code.
Both the FBI and the FTC have some helpful tips for avoiding scams, but the bottom line is this: if someone you don’t know asks you to send them money, don’t do it using any means, crypto or otherwise.
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