KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Bitcoin is the currency of choice for scammers. Just ask people who have lost money on a romance scam, car scam or rental house scam.
“He wanted $1,600,” said Tonya Smith who spoke to FOX4 Problem Solvers last year after losing all that money.
She paid it to a man who claimed to be the owner of a rental house near 39th Street that she hoped to make her home.
The scammer, who said he was in Florida, wanted to be paid via a Bitcoin ATM located at a gas station not far from the rental property. Scammers love being paid via Bitcoin because it’s an untraceable transaction.
At least that’s what Problem Solvers has always been told, which is why we were surprised to learn the FBI was able to help a major petroleum company get back some of the money they’d paid in Bitcoin ransom this year.
Although the FBI won’t say exactly how the money was recovered, a cryptocurrency security expert has an idea.
“There’s a lot of ways cryptocurrency can be recovered,” said Richard Sanders with Cipherblade.com
But Sanders said recovering the money is so time consuming and expensive that no law enforcement agency is going to waste time and resources helping the victims of small scams.
“Unless they lost bare minimum $100,000, you might as well eat that loss,” Sanders said.
So how do you track a scam Bitcoin transaction? Sanders said investigators start with the Bitcoin exchange that handled it. To no one’s surprise, many scammers use exchanges based in Nigeria.
If the money is still sitting in that exchange, you can get it back with the help of a subpoena.
“A cryptocurrency exchange, much like a bank, can comply with a freeze order to turn over funds, “ Sanders said.
However, if the scammer has already picked up the money and transferred it to their Bitcoin wallet, recovering the funds becomes a lot more complicated.
Sanders said he doesn’t know for sure how the FBI got the oil company’s ransom money back. But if it was done by hacking into the scammer’s Bitcoin wallet, that can only mean the scammer was sloppy with his password, pin or possibly even with the device where the bitcoin was being stored.
So, yes, money lost to Bitcoin can be recovered, but your loss will have to be huge before the FBI will care. The better way to protect yourself from a Bitcoin scam is to never deal with anybody who demands to be paid in Bitcoin.