British Columbia

Coquitlam RCMP warn of bitcoin phone scam

A new phone scam making the rounds has fraudsters posing as government workers demanding payment in bitcoin.

In a new twist, fraudsters posing as government workers demand payment in the cryptocurrency

A visual representation of the digital cryptocurrency bitcoin alongside a selection of fiat currencies. Coquitlam RCMP are warning people about a new scam involving bitcoin. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Coquitlam RCMP are warning the public about a new phone scam that's making the rounds in which fraudsters demand payment in bitcoin.

Callers posing as workers with Revenue Canada or the Immigration and Refugee Board have been threatening people with deportation or arrest for unpaid taxes unless a sum of money is paid immediately in the digital cryptocurrency.

Cpl Michael McLaughlin says victims don't have to be sophisticated in the use of bitcoin to fall for the scam.

"What the criminals will do is instruct people on how to use a bitcoin machine, and they'll phone back repeatedly using these high pressure tactics," said McLaughlin. 

"One of the problems with bitcoin is that it's virtually untraceable — that's the whole reason it was set up. Unfortunately, it's become popular for criminals who launder money and with criminals who do frauds and scams," he said.

"Once you've made a payment in bitcoin, you're never getting it back."

Not just Coquitlam

McLaughlin says he knows of four instances where people have fallen for the scam but believes there are likely more. 

"I know anecdotally and by looking at other files that this is a fraud that's going to be happening all over Metro Vancouver," he said. 

Coquitlam RCMP say people should be aware of the following:

  • The government does not send you a text message when you owe money.
  • The government will not pressure you to pay a fine in minutes or hours.
  • The government does not accept payment in bitcoin, gift cards or prepaid credit cards.
  • Government agencies do not demand that you keep a conversation secret from your spouse, family or police.
  • Do not trust the number on your call display. Phone numbers are often 'spoofed.' To make sure that you're dealing with a legitimate organization, hang up and call back using a phone number that you get from a reputable source.
  • Criminals try to bolster their credibility by showing they already know some of your personal information. Don't share more personal or banking information over the phone.

Bitcoin craze

Bitcoin is a relatively new type of digital currency which is not controlled by any government or centrally processed by any bank or company.

It has seen increases of over 2,000 per cent in the last year, with values spiking and falling in recent weeks. At one point Wednesday, a single bitcoin was worth over $25,000 Cdn.

McLaughlin says new Canadians and older people are most vulnerable to the scam because of their circumstances and a lack of understanding of bitcoin.

"We've had it where somebody sent money not even knowing that they sent bitcoin money. So, it's important that everyone is aware these frauds are happening," he said.