Crypto assets are maturing as alternative class of assets. As cryptocurrencies rise in popularity and price, the scams rise to the occasion.
In late February I received a request to connect on LinkedIn from a person claiming to be the Director of Market Research at DIOR. Their profile stated they were from Singapore and working in Toronto for a few months. The profile was for Elaine Li, with a picture of a woman with oriental heritage. “Elaine” said she was wanting to exchange cultural information and hoped we could learn from each other in conversation. Being the professional I am, I connected.
Elaine and I had a pleasant interaction of about four messages, asking what I liked and where I was working. Then she wanted to move “off platform” and continue discussions on WhatsApp where we could communicate more easily. – Red Flag #1.
Inquiring minds want to know
After receiving the request, I let her know it would be a few minutes that I needed to finish my current project. My current project became researching Elaine Li of DIOR Director of Market Research, and WhatsApp, as I had heard of it but never used it.
I found no search person through the regular search engines and conducted a reverse phone number search which didn’t even pull up a number in Singapore, though the first two digits were the correct prefix for Singapore. – Red Flag #2.
WhatsApp is a popular messaging app with greater popularity in Europe and the rest of the world than in the US. It has end to end encryption and allows persons to interact without fear of a third party monitoring thier conversation. It also allows people to send attachments such as photos, files, and website links. I figured what the heck and downloaded the app on my personal phone after setting up a Google Voice account to obtain a virtual telephone number.
We finaly connected on WhatsApp and had a pleasant conversation. I found that I could also send messages via WhatsApp using car-play while driving, when my phone was connected to my car with a charging cable. This allowed me to chat while driving on long trips. It was a fun way to pass the time.
Now that she knew some of my likes, I found it really strange that Elaine began voicing similar interests as I told her I enjoyed. Things like travel, SCUBA diving, mountain climbing, camping, hiking, swimming, and photography were shared interests. She even likes to cook and try new foods – what a coincidence… am I right?
After the second day of conversation, she told me she dabbled in investing with her uncle – her helps her. She asked if did this too. I know I had previously told her that I used to work as a financial consultant, selling mutual funds… Then she told me of how she had another session with her uncle that evening – where they invested in cryptocurrency, and asked if did this too. After telling her I did not invest in cryptocurrency or know much about it, she shared a couple of whitepapers which told of how cryptocurrency worked. That night, she “screen-shotted me” where she had supposedly made $250,000 US dollars in about 15 minutes of leveraged futures trading. Elaine said she made more money trading than at her regular job, but that she enjoyed working and kept her job for something to do. – Red Flag #3.
Try to set the hook
Elaine was eager to help me earn a life of luxury too and wanted to introduce me to her uncle “George”. She provided enough background information to let me know he taught her how to swim when she was young and hated him for a short time because he just kept throwing her into the water until she swam. She also told me her father was Chinese and her Chinese name was Yang Jing. She said she went by her Chinese name at home but all of her friends call her by her English name, Elaine.
Elaine’s uncle George was her father’s brother she said. She never would divulge the name of her father or mother. She claimed to have a sister named Donna and a niece named Bella, and provided generic photos where the location was not obvious. She told me her parents lived in Atlanta and she would be visiting them in a few months when she finished her job in Toronto this spring. Then after some more chit-chat, she said she had feelings for me and would like to meet me when she was visiting Atlanta. – Red Flag #4.
I told her I had the opportunity to go to Atlanta in April or May as I was meeting some other reps at DIOR to obtain the details to bid on contract. I had already submitted one piece of work to their other branch office in Canada for a nice fee. This was quite a coincidence.
Adding more bait to the hook
Elaine wanted me to chat with her uncle who also uses WhatsApp. He is supposedly a Wall Street broker with a “big team.” She thinks he can help me make some real money, and had already told him about me. Great! I agreed to talk to him the next day via WhatsApp chatt. Then after loggin off for the evening, I conducted a deep search and found no George Yang or other derivitive who was a cryptocurrency expert working at a firm in New York, much less on Wall Street. There was also no record of him on FINRA’s Broker Check. FINRA (The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority regulates the financial and securities trading industry in the US.
Elaine contacted me again the next day to show me another screenshot where she supposedly made another $150,000 US dollars in 12 minutes of trading. I knew where this was going, and set up an extra checking account at my bank for the purpose. I transferred some money I knew to be lost and waited.
I was out of town on business and was killing some evening time in my hotel room. After a brief chat with Elaine, she wanted to show me how to get started on my financial future. She had me send screenshot after screenshot via WhatsApp as she walked me through the process of transferring funds to Coinbase.com, a reputable cryptocurrency application. She had me download the app, etc. After linking to my bank account (the separate account I’d established), I transferred a small portion of the funds I’d set aside. She then walked me through installing another app call Bitop, which took me a little longer than she figured it would -as I wanted to research this before installing it too.
Screenshot after screenshot, she’d take my photo and mark it with a red box on where I was to click for the next action. I was always careful to edit the screenshot to not show any account numbers or reference numbers in full. As the old saying goes: “I may be stupid, but I aint’t dumb!”
After we had positioned my acount to trade, she had her “uncle George” contact me via WhatsApp. George went through the same process, after swearing me to secrecy not to divulge his trading secret to anyone. He assured me “he had a strong team.” Screenshot after screenshot, he set me up for a leveraged futures trade with a long position. I was to pay strict attention and close the contract if it went below 10% or gained more than 17%.
In about 8 minutes of trading I saw my funds go up 17%, and he had me close the contract and wait until the next time there was a trend identified that would “benefit us.” George had me assure him I would keep my phone open and answer any time day or night within 15 minutes, as he would only contact me when we would be trading within the hour. I agreed… just before he asked if I had additional funds to invest, because this would take much too long to become a suitable nest egg for me with the funds I had in my account. I told him I could raise probably two thousand at the most, as I wasn’t in a good financial position. – Red Flag # 5
George then asked if I had any investments. I truthfully told him I some some funds in a 401K plan and a Roth IRA with some money in it. He said I needed to liquidate those and we would use them to make me lots of money quickly, as I would even recover the penalties from liquidating them in just one trade. I told George how good that sounded, and that I would check on this as soon as I returned home and reached my broker.
Enhanced delay tactics
The next day, George messaged me to prepare for trading, as a good opportunity was on the way. True to his word, we opened another trade in just over an hour where my funds appeared to raise another 17+% in just over ten minutes of leveraged options trading in a long position. Wow this was fun!
I received a second call during my long drive home to prepare for another. This would be a short position instead of a long, and took just under 15 minutes, but we achieved the same results. Afterward, Geoge affirmed his position that I needed to raise more cash, and that he would be in contact with me to see where I stood. In the meantime, his niece Elaine, which he called Yang Jing, would continue to have conversations with me.
She asked me how I had done via message a few minutes later, and I told her of the glorious returns. She also told me I needed to liquidate my holdings to make a lot of money trading with her Uncle. I assured her I told him the same thing – I would call my broker as soon as I returned. In fact, I did and left a message – knowing I would not be called back. Perhaps I hit the wrong button.
The next day they asked about my funds in separate chats, I told them I was awaiting my brokers call and would let them know – but it was Friday and I wasn’t likely to get a call before Monday because of the weekend. This somehow confused them and was unexpected, as if they had never heard of a workweek and weekends. – Red Flag #6
They continued to message me and wished me great wishes and greetings throughout the weekend and on Monday morning, began to query about my liquidations in earnest. Out of curiousity I did call my broker and asked about liquidating my Roth and the options and penalties involved. He told me the process, and options for penalties and taxes, etc.. and how much I had in the account. This was good to know any time. I asked how long it typically took for the funds to arrived if they transferred them via ACH transfer instead of sending a check… and took this information under advisement.
At 11:15 I received my first message from Elaine asking, so I told her it was a done deal and I was waiting on the funds. They were to arrive in my account in three business days. This bought me some time. I told her the amount was not as much as I had hoped but it was a lot more than I had before. I could scrape together $18,000 total to transfer.
As soon as she leaned this, she wanted me to wire transfer the funds the moment they arrived. For some reason, we could not use Coinbase, so she wanted me to download another “banking app” called Crypto.com and use this. Unfortunately I was on the road at the time but agreed after I stopped somewhere. In the meantime we did small talk and she told me of what her day would entail, etc.. and sent a photo of a young oriental woman eating lunch – supposedly her. I asked how she took the “selfie” from that angle, and after a few minutes she said she asked a friend to take it for her.
I researched Crypto.com at my office and found the app to be a real thing and downloaded it on my phone. Afterward she walked me through the process of setting up an account screen-shot by screen-shot…, me still being careful not to include account numbers. We then found the wire transfer form I was to take to my bank.
Three days later the funds would have arrived in my account by 10 a.m., so I let her know when they “arrived”. She promptly walked me back through getting the wire transfer order information and told me to go straight to my bank and make the transfer as it would take the funds a day or two to arrive. True to my word, I went to my bank and asked them about a wire transfer for cryptocurrency purchases. They said they did not do those and if they send all wire transfer orders to their wires department for review, but they would not authorize it. I asked how long the reveiw typically takes and if they funds were wired how long it would take to arrive and left with this information.
After I told Elaine how the funds were wired now, she was ecstatic. A few minutes later she asked me to send her a photo of the transfer order so she could confirm the details were correct. I hadn’t anticipated this and told her it was in the back seat and I was driving. I’d have to wait until I stopped to get it… Darned if it didn’t blow out of the car when I stopped beside the road to retrieve it later. She was obviously disappointed by said we’d just wait. They funds should show up in my account the next day she said…
She asked about my driving, and I assured her I was fine as I use the car app to talk and text, and that I drive hundreds of miles each day in my job. Sadly, I sent a garbled message that gave the impression I had been in a wreck and was wounded a few minutes later. I turned the app off and gave it a few days.
Two days later a fictitious nurse sent the message… said phone badly damaged and asked if she were my wife. She said no, and asked she was speaking to. I identified myself as a nurse at University Medical Center, and asked who she was. Elaine stayed in character and said she was a close friend from Canada, but didn’t have contact information for my wife. “The nurse” said I had been in a bad accident and was flown in the other day and had been unconscious. Elaine asked for a photo, which I had not anticipated – but told her I couldn’t and please not say anything about messaging her as HIPAA laws would get her fired, but had to go as the supervisor was coming.
This went on for a few days, with me finally coming around and my work phone getting the WhatsApp app installed as my personal phone was destroyed in the wreck I didn’t have, and was not working. Did I mention my laptop and ipad were destroyed too? i told of how I lost my memory and was confined to home, etc and would be off work a few weeks. About three weeks into my ruse, a little over two months after “connecting” on LinkedIn, she finally figured out I was stringing her along instead. She even jumped apps and had me switch to Telegram from WhatsApp at one point, but that didn’t help either. I noticed the associated telephone number changed from a Singapore type number to one in New Jersey. I called the number, which was unable to be connected according to Verizon Wireless, and a reverse phone search said the number belonged to a dry goods company.
Neither George or Elaine have attempted to contact me since then. It was fun while it lasted. I have since tried to recover the expendable funds from Bitop, but they said the funds were unsufficient to return at this point due to anti-mony laundering laws. I would have to acquire double the amount I deposited to withdraw it.
My mother raised me to be skeptical. My father taught me to be wairy of anything that seemed to true – as they usually aren’t true. What kept me from falling for the whole gig? The red flags and a good family life. I wasn’t looking for love or quick money. I’m happy with what I earn and the people in my life. I like to explore and learn.
I took the opportunity to learn about Singapore and bought a book on Amazon Kindle to learn about about and asked questions of my “host.” She could not readily answer many of the questions without a long pause – obviously to look up an answer. It doesn’t hurt that I am a regulatory investigator and teach classes on investigation and inspection. None of the phone numbers provided are listed anywhere and the people do not exist on social media or traditional search platforms where they should if doing business in the US. Curiously, I found another person of a different name but same title in another city using one of the photos sent to me. I found that odd too. – That was another red flag.
There are many scams out there, most use romance scams trolling on tinder.com and other dating sites to find their marks. Others troll the chatrooms and groups on Facebook and other social media sites. This isn’t one of the traditional typices I had heard of before. I found it most interesting. While it did costs me about 1 1/2 – 2 weeks of writing on NewsBreak while I was “laid up and recouperating” from my fictional accident, I’m hoping to recover that if this true story is received well.
Why do people use WhatsApp? It is vastly more common in the rest of the world than in the USA. We tend to stick with iMessage and texting or using facebook messenger, but for the rest of the world it’s more common. We are also more free in the sharing of our telephone numbers. I personally only give my real number to known people. I have a nother number on Google Voice that I use on these apps to maintain some anonyminity.
There are lots of cryptocurrency scams out there. The evolution of the non-traditional currency is wide open for minipulation of scammers becasue there is limited oversight by government, which is also why it is hugely popular. Many like that the government isn’t able to watch all of their financial transactions or manipulate their currency’s worth – wether due to ideology or nafarious concerns.
Be wary of who you talk to online and do not blindly fall for anyone whom you have never met. It’s a sure road to disaster that even the FBI and your bank probably won’t be able to help you recover lost assets.