ANTIOCH, Calif. (KGO) — Investors fear they may have been conned out of hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars from a high-stakes deal introduced to them by attractive women.
The Federal Trade Commission says it’s seen an uptick of complaints involving romance and cryptocurrency.
Kevin Sam, of Antioch, met a woman online in February who reached out suddenly via a direct message.
“She was very kind. Still to this day, she’s kind of empathetic,” Sam told 7 On Your Side.
He says their online relationship grew, but they still have not met in person.
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Sam remembers her mentioning an investment opportunity in cryptocurrency on Feb. 10.
“Open the wallet and enter the mining pool,” she wrote, urging Sam to invest with the site called defi-base.com.
He did just that and he says it immediately paid off.
“Originally, it started at $2,000. Then it went up to $5,000 almost a week later,” he said.
So he invested more money.
“At $50,000, I was making $1,000 a day,” said Sam.
He even borrowed $100,000 for his mother to invest.
But he says when he tried to cash out on some of his investments, he ran into problems.
“You are participating in the 7-day 100,000 USDT gift on the mining pool. Cannot withdraw during the pledge period,” the company told him.
That was on March 5.
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In all he says he invested $225,000 and still hasn’t been able to withdraw his money.
He filed a complaint with the FBI.
“$225,000 was removed from my crypto Coinbase wallet without consent,” Sam wrote.
The FTC says it cannot comment on any current or potential investigation, nor could it comment on any particular crypto platforms.
The agency issued a report that put total losses from crypto-related fraud from January 2021 through the first quarter of this year at more than $1 billion.
Senior data researcher Emma Fletcher said oftentimes investors are lead to believe their investment is growing, when in fact the website is fake.
“The website will be used to encourage them to send more and more until they finally go to withdraw their money and find out that they can’t get it back,” she said.
Dillian Billiot is CEO of the investment firm Rizen Holdings.
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He says he too invested in Defi-Base after meeting a woman online who suggested it, but who he still hasn’t met.
“My account has been frozen with $1.2 million and they are still trying to beg me to send another $215,000 to release my funds,” he wrote in his complaint to the FBI.
Billiot says he’s been investing in crypto for seven years. He checked out Defi-Base and saw that it listed Tom Gonser, founder of Docusign, as an adviser to the company.
He said he invested slowly, saw it build up, was able to withdraw funds. So he invested even more money.
“Then I started putting clients with my investment firm that I have into it, and that’s when the rug was pulled and a lot of funds are compromised,” Billiot said.
He would later find out that Gonser was not part of Defi-Base and that his name and image were used without his consent.
7 On Your Side caught up with Gonser recently while was was vacationing.
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“Since I have nothing to do with it, it makes me feel real frustrated because I can’t stop it. I don’t like being associated with people getting ripped off,” Gonser told 7 On Your Side.
He has filed a complaint with the FBI but says he has not heard back. He say he has not found a way to contact Defi-Base directly.
The contact button on its website is not functioning, but Sam passed along 7 On Your Side’s request to interview them through their app.
Defi-Base did not respond directly to our request, but told Sam, “We are a legal and formal liquidity mining platform.”
It then warned him it would soon close the mining pool and urged him to transfer his money to one of its others. He says his funds have been moved to Meta-Miner. The website looks almost identical to Defi-Base’s site.
Chris Pierson is the CEO of the cybersecurity firm BlackCloak. He warns when it comes to cryptocurrentcy, buyer beware.
“It is decentralized. There is no government regulation or rule or back to it whatsoever,” Pierson warned.
He suspects both women who introduced Sam and Billiot to Defi-Base may not be legitimate or may be part of a potential scheme.
We’re blurring their images within the video because we have not been able to confirm who they are and have not been able to contact them for comment.
Sam says he’s suspicious, but for now is giving her the benefit of doubt.
“She’s even trying to help me get the funds out of his mining pool by loaning me the money,” said Sam.
Pierson says he thinks he understands what Sam is thinking.
“I have a real relationship, a real caring relationship. I have a connection here. And because of that, people’s brains move from a logical thinking brain into a kind of fast-acting and, you know, very emotional side of the brain,” he said.
The FBI would not comment, but the FTC has this warning: “If someone that you met online in a romantic situation is giving you investment advice, that’s a big red flag,” said Emma Fletcher.
7 On Your Side reached out to all the people listed as advisors with Defi-Base. All of them told us their names are being used without permission. We also saw websites under different company names and different URLs, again listing Gosner and the others as advisers with the company while using the same marketing materials and website content as Defi-Base. Sam has launched a Go Fund Me page to repay his mother for the $100,000 she gave him to invest.
Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.
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