'It's a scam': Toronto police urge vigilance as multiple people fall victim to bitcoin fraudsters

Toronto police are warning people to beware of criminals impersonating police officers and other government employees, after multiple people say they’ve fallen victim to bitcoin fraudsters.

1 woman said she lost approximately $7K, while another lost $1,500

Bitcoin machines like this one convert cash into the cryptocurrency, after which it becomes practically untraceable. Multiple people say they’ve recently fallen victim to bitcoin fraudsters. (Nick Boisvert/CBC)

Toronto police are warning people to beware of criminals impersonating police officers and other government employees, after multiple people say they've fallen victim to a bitcoin scam.

Police say people claiming to be Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) representatives or law enforcement officers call and advise victims that their personal banking details, social insurance number or other personal information have been compromised.

Victims are then asked to either transfer money, or withdraw cash from their bank accounts and make deposits at a bitcoin machine.

"They acted like vultures," said Michael Kallis, whose wife fell victim after she received a call from someone she thought was from Service Canada. 

The caller told his wife that her social insurance number had been used to conduct fraudulent activity totalling hundreds of thousands of dollars and her account would be frozen shortly.

Kallis said the caller told his wife that to secure the money in her account, she should withdraw it from the bank and deposit it at a bitcoin machine.

"She withdrew the [$1,500] and she deposited it in this bitcoin machine," Kallis told CBC News. "It was just too much to bear and I feel badly for my wife. She fell into a trap of these people."

Such calls should trigger alarm bells

Toronto Police spokeswoman Const. Caroline de Kloet says calls likes these should trigger alarm bells.

"This is not something that [the CRA] is asking you to do," de Kloet said in an interview with CBC News on Friday.

"Those types of requests should definitely send some alarms that it's a scam."

Const. Caroline de Kloet is reminding the public that police would never ask for forms of payment over the phone and do not accept bitcoin currency. (CBC)

'I am not usually a very gullible person'

Kaela Goodey said on Oct. 23 she was contacted by a man she thought was from Service Canada, who told her that there were 25 bank accounts opened in her name, and there were seven charges being brought against her.

The man told Goodey that they had tried to contact her by letter but she had not responded.

"I am not usually a very gullible person. I have had a police check ... for my work. I asked him how that could be if I had my police check done recently," Goodey told CBC News.

She said the man insisted that there had been fraud, embezzling and drug charges associated with her name and social insurance number.

"[He said] my next step should be to hire a criminal attorney because the police may be deciding to move forward with this," Goodey explained.

When Goodey insisted that the caller did not have the right person, she said the man on the telephone told her that he would connect her with the Toronto police.

At this point, Goodey said another man came on the call and repeated everything the original caller had told her.

He also told her that she should work with the original caller from Service Canada, who would help her to secure her funds and place them in an encrypted account so that the person who had stolen her identity could no longer gain access to them.

"I was then transferred back to this original person and was told essentially to go to my bank and not talk to anyone . . . and get out as much as you can from your bank without closing your bank account," Goodey said.

According to Goodey, "because there was so much pressure," she withdrew approximately $7,000 from her account. She was then told to go to a minimart just under the Pape subway station and deposit the funds at the bitcoin machine there.

After Goodey deposited the money, the caller terminated the call.

In October, Toronto police issued two news releases detailing similar accounts of people being contacted by fraudsters who wanted them to withdraw cash from their bank accounts.

In one incident, a man received a phone call from 1-888-242-2100. The caller, who said he was from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, advised the man that he would be deported and needed to find a lawyer within one hour.

"The caller then advised that a lawyer could be provided at a fee of $1,200 to be paid by bitcoin currency only," police said, adding that the man went to a local bitcoin machine and deposited the money.

After depositing the money, the individual purporting to be from the IRCC, called the man again and demanded an additional $2,400 to "bail himself out."

The man refused and contacted police.

Police do not accept bitcoin currency

In the other incident, a woman who said she received a call on Oct. 14, from a man claiming to be from the CRA, ended up depositing $1,000 in a bitcoin machine. The fraudster told the woman that she was being investigated in relation to her social insurance number being used for fraudulent activity.

Toronto police said officers have recently been made aware of multiple related occurrences where police phone numbers are being used to commit similar frauds or people are pretending to be police officers.

"We would like to remind the public that police would never ask for forms of payment over the phone and do not accept bitcoin currency," the news release said.

Investigators say anyone with information on these scams should contact police at 416-808-3107, or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 416-222-TIPS (8477).

With files from Jasmin Seputis