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Toronto police are warning the public about scams where fraudsters posing as government officials will demand a payment, usually thousands of dollars, in bitcoin or another cryptocurrency.

A Toronto business recently lost $5,000, police said, after it received a call from “Toronto Hydro” saying that its power would be turned off unless a bitcoin payment was received within half an hour. The call display was spoofed to display the actual number for the utility. Police did not identify the company or any suspects.

Constable Jenifferjit Sidhu said police had received similar reports over the past few months. Scammers will sometimes pose as the Canada Revenue Agency via phone, e-mail or text with a notice of overdue taxes; or as immigration services demanding the person pay a fine in cryptocurrency or face immediate deportation.

“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,” Constable Sidhu said.

Fortunately the woman realized that it was a scam, she said, “but a lot of people fall for this and provide the money.”

Constable Sidhu said a sum as large as $5,000 was not out of the ordinary for these types of scams.

“Everything that I’ve seen … you’re talking thousands,” she said. “One incident I recall, someone cashed in their RRSPs to provide the payment. It can be huge ― a substantial loss, because they actually believe the CRA is after them.”

Toronto Hydro spokesperson Tori Gass said an increasing number of scammers are demanding bitcoin payments using fake electricity bills, and gleaning personal information through text messages that promise rebates on the other side of a link.

Ms. Gass said Toronto Hydro does not accept cryptocurrency and won’t disconnect a customer’s power before following a lengthy process involving letters and phone calls.

“We will never threaten to disconnect power on the spot or over the phone in that way,” she said.

Toronto police have warned that the number of cryptocurrency scams are increasing. Since bitcoin are encrypted and untraceable, it’s nearly impossible to catch a suspect ― and once a payment is made, there is no way to get it back.

“Bitcoin is fast becoming the preferred payment mechanism utilized by people committing so-called CRA Scams, where victims are advised of their imminent arrest on the basis of non-existent infractions,” said a Toronto Police Service release in late May.

Bitcoin can be purchased and sent via specialized bank machines that don’t require any technical know-how to operate, dozens of which are in the Greater Toronto Area.

“Millennials, they’re more informed of what bitcoin is,” Constable Sidhu said. “Senior citizens would be a target … but honestly [it’s] open season on who can fall victim to this.”

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