The combination of pandemic loneliness and buzz around crypto has created a fertile hunting ground.
You know what they say: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. As cryptocurrency scammers turn to dating apps to trick people, would-be romantics need to be careful with their finances as well as their hearts. Here’s how.
Crypto prices have risen during the pandemic, making digital currency a convenient starting point for would-be scammers. With online dating also on the rise, apps like Hinge have become the perfect place to trick potential victims.
How’s it going ?
Tho Vu, 33, told the New York Times of meeting a “handsome” architect who called himself Ze Zhao. Zhao told him he would help him make money online, and within weeks Vu had sent over $300,000 worth of Bitcoin to a legitimate-looking address. Mr. Zhao had told him that he was logged into an account on the Hong Kong cryptocurrency exchange OSL. He had actually gone to Zhao’s digital wallet, and he left with the money.
But aren’t these scams obvious?
Oh no. The combination of pandemic loneliness and buzz around crypto has created a fertile hunting ground – and unlike “traditional” romance scams, it’s tech-savvy millennials who are the usual targets.
The operations of the scammers are incredibly sophisticated. As the NYT reports, the attacker starts by helping his victim buy cryptocurrency from a legitimate site, like Coinbase or Crypto.com, and then asks him to transfer it to a fake one – but very real – cryptocurrency exchange. Sometimes they even allow their victim to initially withdraw small amounts of money, lulling them into a false sense of security. They will then guide their victim to various investments, before finally disappearing with their money.
Some scammers even go so far as to create fake mobile apps with fake reviews and ratings, and make them available on the App Store and Play Store. They will stick around after their victims make a small initial deposit using the app, but as soon as they transfer a larger amount, the scammer will take off.
About 56,000 romance scams representing $139 million in losses were reported to the Federal Trade Commission last year, nearly double the number of reports the agency received in 2020.
So what should we pay attention to?
Scammers tend to start their scam by moving offline conversations to apps like WeChat or WhatsApp, where the messages are encrypted. This makes them harder to track.
Unfortunately, moving chat to WhatsApp isn’t unusual in the online dating world, so it’s not quite “enough” of a red flag for this specific danger on its own. But if the discussion starts to touch on crypto – and your new acquaintance starts offering you investment advice, it’s time to run.