Toronto police is warning the citizens of cryptocurrency scams, where fraudsters are posing as government officials and asking for payments in digital currencies. These payments are made in thousands of dollars at a time and transactions are usually completed in bitcoin, the world’s largest currency by market capitalization.
The warnings come after a local business was duped of $5,000 by the fraudsters who posed as officials from ‘Toronto Hydro’ and asked for a bitcoin payment within half an hour. They claimed that failing to pay the money would lead to the power of the establishment being turned off. The criminals even went as far ahead as spoofing the number they were calling from, so it appears that the call came from the real utility and nobody had any doubts. The police have not identified the company. No suspects have been named in this case yet.
Constable Jenifferjit Sidhu, said that such reports have become very common in the past few months. Scrupulous people would call unsuspecting businesses and individuals and pose as government officials like Toronto Hydro and Canada Revenue Agency. The people are usually asked to pay in bitcoins with legitimate-looking notices regarding non-payment of taxes, fines, or other threats. The victims can get calls, texts or emails asking for such payments. Some people have also been called by fake immigration services and asked to pay a hefty fine or get deported by authorities immediately.
Sidhu said, “I had a woman approach me once saying that she got a call from Immigration ― she’s been in the country for like 50 years, but her heart sank, and she was so worried and panicking … believing that Immigration was going to send her and her husband somewhere if they didn’t pay a certain [amount] of money.”
The woman realized it was a fraud in time, but the official noted that “a lot of people fall for this and provide the money.” Sums in thousands of dollars are also commonplace in these cases. She noted that a person even cashed in their RRSPs to provide the payment they were asked for by fake Canada Revenue Service officials. They suffered a substantial loss due to the same.
Tori Grass, spokesperson for Toronto Hydro said that a number of these scam artists are using fake bills along with a dangerous level of personal information to make believe that they are real. She clarified that the utility company doesn’t accept any cryptocurrencies now and would not disconnect a customer’s power at a moment’s notice. This process is often lengthy and involves several phone calls, letters, and negotiations.
The city police are appalled by the sheer frequency of such activities. However, they remain helpless because payments made in digital currencies are anonymous and they could be obscured by several means to hide the identity of the frauds. They also released a statement in May asking people to understand that people committing such scams usually ask for payment in bitcoins which is not the preferred payment mechanism of any government agency or department.