After Identity Theft, Salvadorans Now Report Funds Disappearing From Chivo Wallets

Dozens of Salvadorans say that money has vanished from their wallets. And some report being approached by scammers when they tried to get help.

AccessTimeIconDec 30, 2021 at 10:07 p.m. UTC
Updated May 11, 2023 at 5:47 p.m. UTC

In the last few weeks, dozens of Salvadorans have reported on social media that money has disappeared from their Chivo wallets, the digital application developed by the Salvadoran government for the use of bitcoin throughout the country.

The reports come after hundreds of Salvadorans complained in October that hackers had illegally activated wallets associated with the nine-digit numbers on their identity cards – known as DUI for its acronym in Spanish – to claim the $30 bitcoin incentive dangled by El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele.

Luis Guardado, a Salvadoran who has lived in the United States for 30 years, was one of those who experienced the loss of funds. On Dec. 2, he sent $190 from Coinbase to his Chivo wallet for an upcoming visit to his home country, he told CoinDesk.

Noticing that the amount was slow to arrive, Guardado decided to trace the hash of the transaction. He discovered that the amount had been sent from his Coinbase wallet to a temporary address provided by Chivo from which it sends money to final recipients, but within the hour it had been removed from there. And the money never arrived in his wallet.

Guardado is no newbie to the crypto world, having started investing four years ago in coins such as bitcoin and ether.

“The glitch is not from Coinbase. I have the blockchain record, which says the money was released,” Guardado said.

Guardado called Chivo’s customer service center and received a case number. Chivo’s official Twitter account also contacted Guardado, but as of Dec. 16, it had stopped answering his messages, according to screenshots Guardado provided to CoinDesk.

Rafael, a Salvadoran who preferred not to disclose his last name, faces a similar problem. Based in Australia, he transferred $450 in bitcoin from Coinbase to his Chivo wallet on Dec. 5. But the money never arrived.

Chivo’s customer service team told Rafael that the technical department was reviewing his case, but never allowed him to speak directly with the department.

“It is always the same thing, they tell me to be patient,” he told CoinDesk. So far, Rafael has spent more than $60 on phone calls to Chivo’s call center, as he didn’t receive any answers via Twitter.

“I am already writing that money off,” he said of the $60.

In an email sent to CoinDesk, Felix Munguía said that on Dec. 9 he sent $500 from his Chivo wallet to an account at Banco Cuscatlan. However, he later received a call from Chivo Wallet notifying him that the bank hadn’t accepted the deposit and that the money would be restored to his wallet.

Ultimately, however, the $500 never arrived in his Chivo wallet, and since that day, he hasn’t received any additional response from the company.

A mass of cases, and scams, too

The Twitter account @_elcomisionado_ started a Twitter thread on Dec. 18 for cases of reported fund theft. So far, the account has posted 74 cases.

“But there are many more, I have only posted the ones that mention amounts,” the account owner, who declined to reveal his or her identity, told CoinDesk.

Chivo’s support staff didn’t respond to CoinDesk’s questions about how many accounts have been affected or how the funds could have disappeared.

According to the terms and conditions published by Chivo Wallet, it “will not be liable for any loss or damage that the user may suffer as a result of unauthorized third party access to your account as a result of hacks or lost passwords.”

According to @_elcomisionado_, complaints about funds disappearing became more acute on Dec. 15, when an Amazon Web Services server crash affected Chivo Wallet.

Margot Vieytez was one of the people whose cases @_elcomisionado_ highlighted. Vieytez had $49 disappear from her Chivo wallet in December. Seeking help, she posted about the situation on Twitter and received a response from what she thought was a Chivo support account, which she would later discover was fake.

After opening a link that referred her to a WhatsApp chat, the scammer asked her to deposit money in her Chivo wallet to recover the funds. Vieytez put in $100, and was asked for more. She put in another $100 and, again, was asked for more. When the account had $400 in it, the scammer took all the money.

Vieytez is now considering filing a complaint with the Consumer Ombudsman’s Office or going to the prosecutor’s office, she told CoinDesk.

“I’m not worried about my $400, I’m worried about the number of Salvadorans with this application in use,” said Vieytez, who added that most people in El Salvador don’t have enough resources to file formal complaints.

Attempted scams with Chivo Wallet are the order of the day in El Salvador. After Guardado described his case on Twitter, he was contacted by what appeared to be a Chivo support account, which began asking him for sensitive information to solve the problem of the missing funds. Guardado didn’t provide the information.

Wanting to retire next year in El Salvador, Guardado had thought about using the Chivo Wallet to send money to the country. “Now I’m having second thoughts,” he said, adding that although he supports the implementation of bitcoin in the country, the government needs to resolve security issues with the Chivo Wallet.


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Andrés Engler

Andrés Engler was a CoinDesk editor based in Argentina, where he covers the Latin American crypto ecosystem. He holds BTC and ETH.