Bitcoin and fake credentials in latest scam, Fairfield PD warns

FAIRFIELD — The police department is warning residents of a new scam involving Bitcoin and impersonating officials that has impacted some residents.

The department received a call on Nov. 22 from a resident who sent $7,000 in Bitcoin, a prominent cryptocurrency, to an unknown account of someone claiming to be with the fraud department before realizing she was being scammed, Lt. Mike Paris said in a news release.

Reached by phone on Thursday, Paris said such scams have been reported a few times in Fairfield. 

“There is a variety of these scams occurring with the avenue to deposit the money being the Bitcoin ATM,” he said. “This is the only one so far using the police alias.”

Paris said the resident who reported the incident in November told police she received a call from an unknown man claiming to work for the fraud department of an online retailer.

“He stated that fraud was detected on her account and informed her that she would have to transfer her money to a Bitcoin account,” Paris said. “The resident was then purportedly ‘transferred’ to the Federal Trade Commission where she spoke to an officer who sent her pictures of their alleged credentials.”

Paris said the resident received another call from a woman posing as a Fairfield police officer, who advised her to do what the first caller had asked of her. The phone number used by the second caller was a spoof of the police department’s number, he said, and showed up as the department on caller ID. 

“The callers then instructed the resident to send them a photo of her driver’s license and empty her bank accounts, alleging they were compromised,” he said. “The resident then took money out of her accounts and deposited the money into a Bitcoin ATM at a location given to her by the callers. The resident was also instructed to withdraw $20,000 from her retirement accounts.”

Paris said the resident paused the withdrawal from her retirement accounts, adding she contacted the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles to change her license number. He said it is still unlikely the money will ever be recovered, noting Bitcoin is a virtual encrypted currency and transactions are anonymous.

Paris said residents who receive similar calls should contact the department immediately. 

According to the FTC webpage about scams, people can look for several signs in order to recognize possible scams. It notes that scammers often pretend to be from an organization people know, such as the Social Security Administration, the Internal Revenue Service or a utility company, while others make up names that sound official or make up a name that sounds official.

The FTC says scams usually say there is a problem or a prize, such as being in trouble with the government or in debt to another organization, claiming someone in the family has had an emergency or that there is a virus on the possible victim’s computer. It said some scammers claim there is a problem with an accounts and say the person needs to verify information.

“Scammers pressure you to act immediately,” it says. “They might tell you not to hang up so you can’t check out their story. They might threaten to arrest you, sue you, take away your driver’s or business license, or deport you. They might say your computer is about to be corrupted.”

The agency also noted that scammers try to get victims to pay in a very specific way, such as through a money transfer or through gift card.

Paris said the department wanted to remind residents that organizations do not ask for payment by a gift card, pre-paid debit card or money transfer service.

“This should be a significant red flag. Pre-paid debit cards and gift cards are not legitimate ways to pay for goods and services,” he said. “They cannot be traced, and once funds are transferred, the money cannot be recovered.”

People can report any type of suspected scam or fraud at ftc.gov/complaint, or call toll-free: 1-877-FTC-HELP. For more information about scams, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website or the state’s website.

Joshua.LaBella@hearstmediact.com

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