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.”
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.
The leader in news and information on cryptocurrency, digital assets and the future of money, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups. As part of their compensation, certain CoinDesk employees, including editorial employees, may receive exposure to DCG equity in the form of stock appreciation rights, which vest over a multi-year period. CoinDesk journalists are not allowed to purchase stock outright in DCG.
Learn more about Consensus 2023, CoinDesk’s longest-running and most influential event that brings together all sides of crypto, blockchain and Web3. Head to consensus.coindesk.com to register and buy your pass now.