Bitcoin scams have cost Waterloo Region residents more than $700K since early 2020, police say

In this Feb. 7, 2018 file photo, a neon sign hanging in the window of Healthy Harvest Indoor Gardening in Hillsboro, Ore., shows that the business accepts bitcoin as payment. (AP Photo/Gillian Flaccus, File)

Waterloo regional police are issuing a warning to the public about the disturbing trend of bitcoin scams in the area, which have reportedly cost 120 residents more than $700,000.

According to a Thursday news release from police, 14 people have also fallen victim in the first month and a half of this year and lost more than $62,000.

The average loss comes out to roughly $4,441 per person.

Investigators say the scam involves extortion to demand payments using the cryptocurrency, with the fraudsters often posing as government workers, revenue or law enforcement agents, immigration officials, and more.

During scams, victims are commonly asked to verify personal and financial information, and then directed to make a withdrawal from their bank. From there they will be asked to go to a specific address to make a Bitcoin transaction using a QR code.

Police provided one instance of an 18-year-old woman receiving a call identifying as a law enforcement officer threatening imprisonment unless money was sent. The victim withdrew $20,000 from her bank and made a deposit at a Bitcoin machine in Waterloo before then being instructed to go back and make another withdrawal.

Another instance details a 22-year-old man receiving a call from what he thought was Waterloo regional police's non-emergency number. The fraudster made reference to personal information about the victim, including a reference to the Canadian Immigration Office.

The victim made a $3,900 deposit at a Bitcoin machine in Waterloo before they were asked to pay a lawyer fee of $1,800.

Police note that fraudsters have been spoof-calling victims by mimicking the police phone number as well.

They recommend never sending money based on a request made over a phone, watch out for pressure and pleas that play on emotions, and not to provide any personal information.

Victims of scams are encouraged to report the incident online, while those who received scam calls but did not lose any money are asked to contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.