Cryptocurrencies, which act as a medium of exchange and digital representation of value, are distinct from “fiat currencies,” such as the dollar, euro or yen, since they are not represented or organized by a physical paper unit or coin. Instead, each cryptocyrrency, of which bitcoin is the most widely known, is a unique alphanumeric string of computer code. It is controlled by technology that determines how many bitcoins are produced and how transactions that use bitcoin are recorded. Proponents believe that bitcoin – or other cryptocurrenices like Litecoin, Dash and Ripple – can be an attractive alternative to fiat currencies because it is not controlled by any central bank or government.
“People are gravitating towards cryptocurrency because it gives them some form of anonymity and transactions can be kept confidential. However, scammers and fraudsters have taken notice and find the conditions surrounding crytocurrency quite favourable, “ says Karla Davis, manager, Community and Public Relations, Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Mainland British Columbia. “During the first two months of 2018, $1.36-billion worth of cryptocurrencies were stolen by fraudsters globally. By the end of 2017, Canadians were swindled out of more than $1.7-million. The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre informed that this amount is five times more than what was lost in 2015.
“At BBB, our biggest concerns for the public with regard to cryptocurrency start with the fact that most transactions are unregulated, untraceable and irreversible. There is also a great deal of uncertainty because it is difficult to say where your money really is, and people are left to absorb the risk and hope that the business will operate as advertised,” she says. “Consumers may not have the security and insurance that come with investing money in a typical bank or financial institution.”
Cryptocurrency scams are prevalent on the internet. Social media platforms, particularly Twitter, are being used as a medium to victimize millions of people, explains Ms. Davis. “Although Twitter banned all cryptocurrency ads in March 2018, fraudsters have become more sophisticated and are starting to hack verified accounts with high follower counts to push their scams. In some cases, they have even purchased and run Twitter ad campaigns to promote them. Late last year, Target’s Twitter account was hacked and the fraudsters used the retailer’s Twitter feed to trick unsuspecting consumers with a cyptocurrency giveaway scam.”
People may also receive unsolicited phone calls or see pop-up ads on their computer offering unrealistic predictions of high returns on investment. As such, people in a financial bind, investors with high risk tolerance, millenials and unsuspecting seniors may be targets, believes Ms. Davis. “Our general rule of thumb concerning scams and frauds is that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is."
Cryptocurrency scams are among some the most prevalent fraudulent schemes along with scams related to online dating, income tax, online purchases, subscriptions and employment opportunities.
Ms. Davis advises to be wary when you’re asked to share your credit card or personal information, always start by doing research and review all fine print and terms and conditions before making a purchase.
“Beware of paid advertisements online. Paid banner ads are not always affiliated with the website you are viewing,” she says. “Also watch for unusual or irregular email requests, never click on links or open attachments in unsolicited emails and review credit card statements regularly for unauthorized charges.”
Ms. Davis suggests contacting the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre to report experiences related to scams. “In instances where money was taken from your account, report it to your financial institution immediately, request a chargeback, discuss your other options for recourse and how you can prevent the reoccurrence of a financial security breach,” she says. “Additionally, if you transferred money as part of the scam using money transfer services like Western Union and MoneyGram, contact them directly to report the crime.”
Being knowledgeable about scams and frauds is important, however, sharing the knowledge and developing a culture of reporting scams and frauds are even more crucial, she stresses. “With only a fraction of victims coming forward to report their experiences, valuable information is left untold and unutilized.”
One of the primary reasons for low reporting statistics is that victims are embarrassed, Ms. Davis says. “It is not easy to share that you were manipulated, scammed and missed all the red flags. In some instances, there are people who may not have lost a significant amount of money and have just decided to take their loss as a lesson. There are those who detected the scam just in time so they feel they do not need to share what they encountered. Some people may even feel that reporting the scam is pointless and that their story will not make a difference.”
However, everyone who has encountered a scam or fraud, whether victim or otherwise, should report it, according to Ms. Davis. “Your story matters. Sharing your experience shows your strength – it can help to educate others and prevent more people from becoming victims.”
Reporting fraud also provides law enforcement and organizations like the BBB with valuable information to help apprehend and prosecute criminals as well as track the impact of their criminal activities, she adds. “Visit bbb.org to use Scam Tracker - a tool designed to not only allow you to report scams, but to also see which scams are operating in your area.”
Resources and tools provided by the BBB
· Business accreditation - The BBB Accreditation Program shows businesses’ commitment to integrity, ethical business practices and customer service.
· Dispute resolution - The BBB Dispute resolution team works with both parties to help them come to their own mutually acceptable resolution. BBB acts as a neutral third party, and does not make a decision to resolve the matter
· BBB Ad truth - This is an educational program that teaches consumers about potential advertising abuses and empowers them to report advertisements that could cause financial or personal harm due to problematic tactics or faulty products.
Consumer guide - BBB’s annually published directory provides quick and easy access to reputable and trustworthy businesses when consumers are shopping for products and services or simply need business contact information.
2019 marks the 15th anniversary of Fraud Prevention Month, an educational campaign advancing knowledge and awareness about fraud among consumers and businesses. Launched in March – and continuing throughout the year – the initiative is organized by the Fraud Prevention Forum, which consists of 104 public- and private-sector organizations and is chaired by the Competition Bureau.
Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.