FBI Warns COVID-19 Scammers Are Targeting Crypto Holders

The FBI is warning that fraudsters are about to unleash a surge of coronavirus cryptocurrency scams.

AccessTimeIconApr 14, 2020 at 4:00 a.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 8:28 a.m. UTC

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) warned Monday that fraudsters are about to unleash a surge of coronavirus cryptocurrency scams.  

According to the FBI, the threat is universal, unyielding, opportunistic and incredibly dangerous. The issue is compounded by the fact that an increasing number of merchants are now accepting crypto, the warning said.

“Fraudsters are leveraging increased fear and uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic to steal your money and launder it through the complex cryptocurrency ecosystem,” and they’re targeting victims regardless of their age, the FBI said.

Agents believe these scammers will tailor their pitch to the current situation, perhaps posing as newly remote workers collecting “donations” via email, safety equipment vendors working beyond established e-commerce, or even as “charities” that take cryptocurrency, which is “a significant red flag.” 

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The CoinDesk news email spam folder is full of "significant red flags. (Image by Danny Nelson)

Scams may also come in more traditional methods like blackmail but with a twist: The scammer threatens to “infect you and/or your family with coronavirus unless payment is sent to a bitcoin wallet.”

Agents advise internet users to employ common sense, verify the legitimacy of vendors, stay away from their bank accounts and report blackmail and extortion attempts to law enforcement. 

The FBI did not immediately respond to questions on what prompted the warning. 

The warning is the latest government-level warning about COVID-19 crypto scams, a scourge spanning the globe as quickly as the virus. Thieves have stolen $2 million in crypto from panicking PPE-seekers in Asia, swarmed U.K. cellphones with malicious text messages, and spooked financial regulators, including the U.K.'s Financial Conduct Authority and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission

Whether these pandemic-themed scams are any more or less effective than their traditional counterparts is not known. Chainalysis research indicates crypto scammers are hitting their mark about as often as they did before the crisis, though their earnings have been dramatically lowered by bitcoin’s wild price swings.

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