Don't click that link: OBPD sees rising number of cryptocurrency cyber scams on elderly population | Observer Local News

A 71-year-old man sent $50,000 to a person he met in an online chat room, thinking he was investing in a Belgian mine. A 60-year-old woman was told to pay $4,300 using Apple and Zelle gift cards for a puppy. A 78-year-old woman mailed a stranger $8,500 in cash to bring her alleged boyfriend home after the war in Gaza.

These are all cases of fraud reported to the Ormond Beach Police Department within the past year. Like many law enforcement agencies, fraud accounts for the majority of OBPD cases each year.

Last year, OBPD saw 246 reported fraud cases. In 2022 there were 231 and in 2021 there were 212. So far this year, 34 cases have been reported.

“Criminals have adapted to fraudulent activity because it is harder to find, prove and track,” said Ormond Beach Police Sgt. John Dovine said.

And criminals continue to adapt, as the city is seeing a growing number of cryptocurrency-related fraud cases. Detective Jessica Fowler, who has been investigating these types of cases for three years, said the department used to see a fraud case involving cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, every few months. Now it's a few cases a week.

But the department, he said, is also moving forward.

"Five years ago, when we couldn't work these cases, now we can," Fowler said. “We are seeing how far they go. They're taking us to all different countries, working with other agencies. “We have been fortunate to obtain some software that allows us to investigate them thoroughly and hopefully reunite the victims with their funds.”

"A national security problem"

Between 2018 and 2022, according to the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center, Americans lost $27.6 billion to cybercrimes: fraud, identity theft, scams, data breaches and other criminal acts that use technology.

What could scams be like? Here are three examples. Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock/synthetick

In 2022, losses accounted for 37.9% of that five-year total: Americans reported $10.3 billion in cybercrime losses with 800,844 complaints reported to IC3. Total losses reported by older victims increased by 84% according to IC3 most recent elder fraud report. In 2022, 88,262 victims over the age of 60 filed a complaint with IC3, reporting a total loss of $3.1 billion.

"Technology and customer service schemes continued to be the most common type of fraud reported, with 17,800 complaints filed by victims over the age of 60," the report states. "Monetary losses due to investment fraud reported by victims over 60 increased more than 300%, more than any other type of fraud, largely due to the growing trend of crypto investment scams. In almost all types of crimes tracked by the IC3, cryptocurrency-related losses increased. Overall, cryptocurrency-related losses reported by seniors increased by 350%."

Victims over the age of 60 reported an average loss of $35,101 and 5,456 victims lost more than $100,000.

Similarly, the scams the OBPD sees are not typically small amounts of money. It's also thousands and thousands of dollars, and all of it, Fowler said, is primarily intended for elderly victims.

It's not that they are creating a scam here in Ormond Beach - they are global. This is not just a threat in Ormond Beach, it is a national security issue." — PAULINE DULANG, OBPD Spokesperson

A victim may receive a phone call alleging that they failed to perform jury duty and now have a warrant for their arrest. To avoid arrest, the scammer claims the victim must pay him a large sum of money, using a cryptocurrency ATM or gift cards.

"No reputable company or government agency will ask you for payments like that," Fowler said.

Bitcoin ATMs are most commonly found at gas stations and retail pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens.

"These suspects know where they are in our area," Fowler said. "They literally give victims instructions on how to get there, and they look like normal ATMs, so victims don't always understand, 'Hey, I'm investing $10,000 to buy these kinds of tokens.' They just think it's a payment system." ".

Cryptocurrency is not illegal. But people should be aware that scammers use it to commit crimes, Fowler said.

The suspects also tend not to be from the area, said OBPD spokeswoman Pauline Dulang.

"It's not that they're creating a scam here in Ormond Beach; they're global," he said. "This is not just a threat in Ormond Beach, it is a matter of national security."

One active fraud case OBPD is working on involves a victim who lost $400,000 of his life savings, Dovine said. That was a type of case known as a "love scam," where a suspect creates a "relationship" with his victim, sometimes for months, and once the relationship is established, the suspect continually asks the victim for money.

The elderly victim was alerted by the US Secret Service, who contacted OBPD and asked them to speak with the victim and inform her that she was being scammed.

"It was very difficult to tell him that this wasn't real," Dovine said. "She had developed a relationship with someone she thought was real. It's difficult, especially at her age: they feel alone and sometimes they become widowed."

Police: Report scams as soon as possible

When it comes to fraud cases, time is of the essence, Fowler said.

"[Victims] "We have to report it as quickly as possible, because as soon as the suspect has his money, he moves it, and the more he moves it, the harder it is to find it," he said.

Even if people are suspicious and unsure that they are being scammed, Fowler suggests they call the department's non-emergency line, 386-248-1777. They can also report the scam to IC3.gov, the website of the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center.

All of these crimes are preventable, Fowler said, but the victims don't know it. The officers do it.

[Victims] I need to report it as quickly as possible, because as soon as the suspect has your money, he moves it, and the more he moves it, the harder it is to find him." — Ormond Beach Police Detective JESSICA FOWLER

Many people are often embarrassed to report fraud crimes, Fowler said. Sometimes, they tell police that they lost a smaller sum of money in the scam than they actually lost.

Dovine encouraged victims not to feel that way.

"They feel ashamed that they fell into something they thought they shouldn't have done," Dovine said. "So many times they don't come forward and report it, or tell their loved ones out of shame."

Now that the department has new software to help investigate these cases, Fowler said he can't help but remember the hundreds of victims they could have helped years before.

"The fact that I look back now (there are so many cases where if we had had the software, or if the software had been developed back then) we could have been able to refund and reunite," Fowler said. "But in the future, we can do it. We can work on these cases as best we can and hopefully get to that point."

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