Scammers using bitcoin machines to evade police

Cryptocurrency is untraceable, harder for authorities to detect

Police officers from Bukit Merah East Neighbourhood Police Centre prevented at least two victims from buying bitcoins under the instructions of scammers in separate cases in November.
Police officers from Bukit Merah East Neighbourhood Police Centre prevented at least two victims from buying bitcoins under the instructions of scammers in separate cases in November.PHOTO: SHIN MIN DAILY NEWS

Scammers are turning to bitcoin machines to cheat their victims and avoid detection by the police, as cryptocurrency such as bitcoin is untraceable.

In November, police officers from Bukit Merah East Neighbourhood Police Centre (NPC) prevented at least two people from buying bitcoins under the instructions of scammers in separate cases.

In the first case, a man was in the midst of buying bitcoins at a machine in Hong Lim Complex when police officers approached him.

The man, who wanted to be known only as Mr J, said a woman contacted him on an online dating platform last September. The pair began chatting via text messaging, phone calls and video calls.

"After about two weeks of talking, we became friends, and she started to ask me for money to help with an issue she had," said Mr J, who agreed to be interviewed on Monday to warn others. He declined to reveal his age or occupation.

"But each time, she would ask for more and more money," he added, noting that the woman asked him to transfer the money to at least four or five different bank accounts. He did not wish to reveal the total amount he had given her.

On the final occasion in the last week of November, the woman asked Mr J to purchase bitcoins for her from a bitcoin machine.

Police officers from Bukit Merah NPC who were stationed in the vicinity of Hong Lim Complex, spoke to Mr J as he was about to purchase the bitcoins.

When he told them some details and showed them his chat logs with the woman, they told him that he was the victim of a love scam.

 
 
 
 

On Monday, Mr J said he hopes that by sharing his experience, others would not fall prey to scams like he did. "This will be a painful memory forever," he added.

In a separate case, the police managed to prevent a man from buying bitcoins from the same machine on Nov 30. The man, who was in his 30s, found a "part-time job" online that entailed him buying $210 worth of bitcoins after the amount was deposited into his bank account.

The money had, in fact, been deposited by a victim of a scam. The man, who transferred the bitcoins to the scammer, inadvertently became a money mule as the bitcoins are deemed illegal proceeds from the victim.

Inspector Ho Cher Hin, overall-in-charge of the Commercial Crime Squad at Central Police Division, said the increasing use of bitcoin machines is an example of scammers' modus operandi to avoid detection and disruption of their criminal activities. Cases include job scams, Internet love scams and impersonation scams.

"To prevent others from losing their money to these scams, officers from Bukit Merah East NPC have been engaging users of the bitcoin machine to prevent such transactions," said Insp Ho.

He also urged members of the public not to disclose any personal information, including their identification number, passport details, contact details, bank account or credit card details and one-time passwords, to anyone.

"No government agency or official will request personal details or transfer of money over the phone or through automated voice machines. Call a trusted friend or talk to a relative before you act, as you may be overwhelmed by emotion and err in your judgment."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 01, 2020, with the headline 'Scammers using bitcoin machines to evade police'. Print Edition | Subscribe