Saskatchewan

Regina police seeing increase in cryptocurrency scams

The police's financial crimes section is reminding people the government will not demand payment in bitcoin.

Financial crimes section is reminding people government will not demand payment in bitcoin

A man stands next to the Bitcoin sign during Riga Comm 2017. The Regina Police Service is seeing an increase in scammers asking for cryptocurrency. (Ints Kalnins/Reuters)

Regina police are urging people not to be conned into sending cryptocurrency to scammers. 

A new police poster campaign warns of bitcoin schemes. The Regina Police Service said it's seeing an increase in people getting scammed — even though many don't know what cryptocurrency is.

"Typically, the calls are received over the phone and the scammers will tell the victim that they are from the CIA or other government agencies and that their SIN number has been compromised," Sgt. Kelley Berting with the financial crimes section said. 

Berting said the victim is then directed to withdraw money and sent to one of the ATMs in the city where you can purchase Bitcoin — one of the more common cryptocurrencies.

Cryptocurrency is encrypted, digital currency that is decentralized, secure and anonymous. 

"Bitcoin is really hard for us to trace. It's not monitored or regulated the same way that other money is through our regular financial institutions," she said. "So it provides a bit of a roadblock for police in terms of carrying out a thorough investigation."

Berting said Regina residents have been scammed out of upwards of $60,000. She said that can be very damaging for someone's financial situation. 

Berting said victims of a scam should take the following steps: 

  • Report the matter to the police.
  • Contact their banking institution. 
  • Contact Service Canada to determine if their account is compromised.
  • Contact Equifax, TransUnion or another agency to protect their credit.

Scammers can also spoof their calls to make it look like they are calling from a local police service or government agency, she said. Berting said there are a few ways people can look out for themselves. 

"Really paying attention to the calls that you're receiving. If you were to receive a call like this, if you are on the line with him, take the information, don't react immediately and always talk to someone else," Berting said. "Or call the police or your bank or Service Canada directly."

USB storage drives 3D-printed in the shape of the bitcoin logo sit in a case at a cryptocurrency exchange in Calgary. The storage drives can hold keys that allow people to access the cryptocurrency they own, similar to online banking. (Sarah Rieger/CBC)

Elderly people and newcomers are the most at-risk to be taken in by these scams, Berting said.

She said government agencies will never demand payment in Bitcoin, iTunes cards or prepaid VISAs. 

The police have been trying to get the message out to the public through media releases and social media. The poster campaign is the next step. 

"We've recently gone out to all of the locations where Bitcoin ATMs are located and put up posters in hopes that if people come in, perhaps they'll see your poster with our logo on it and recognize that they need to take a couple of minutes to step back and think about what they're doing," she said. 

Berting said it's important to report scams to police, even if it's embarrassing, because scammers will usually try to re-victimize that person repeatedly and police can offer advice on how to avoid being scammed again.

With files from The Morning Edition

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