Talking with Crypto scammers
Part of my study into Con artists is to talk to a scammer on the phone pretending to be a “Mark”. Where some people are interested in the scam itself and how they get your money. For me, I want to know the mechanics of how they can get someone to trust them when.
Recently I have got into cryptocurrency, and not for the reasons that you would think. Money is not a motivator for me, I have no interest in hiding money from the government. (All $110 of my investment) And what time I do spend on the dark web has more to do with research into cybercrimes and disinformation (I barely have speeding tickets .. anything else on the dark web has no interest for me) What I am interested in is the technology behind Bitcoin.
Bitcoin is a perfect place for con artists. Honestly, it has little to do with the bad reputation Bitcoin has with criminals. The real reason is that the two main factors for a good con are in abundance with Bitcoin. Strong emotion (Greed in this case) and uncertainty (Most people have no idea how it works).
Almost every movie with con artists as heroes, has them targeting some greedy business person. I wish these were the only people they target however it’s not. Greed is a good motivator for taking risks. Con artists love using greed to bait the hook however it does take more effort as greedy people are also worried that someone will try to take their money.
This is where “Uncertainty” comes in. When we are faced with unfamiliar territory, get frustrated with processes we do not understand (Computer systems, etc) we tend to lower our guard with anyone who offers help. This is why Phone scams are so effective vs seniors, as they often get very frustrated with computers.
Ok OK back to the story.
Somewhere along the line, I must have signed up for something where my work information was given out. Because shortly after the calls started. This is where the fun begins.
Scammer: “Hello Mr Mason .. I’m from a Bitcoin Investment company. We have noticed that you have set up your trading account. Do you need help setting up the software today?”
Me: OK that would be nice I am not good with computers. (I am already trading with an actual account elsewhere but I wanted to see where this is going… you would think they would have noticed my email address. )
Scammer: “Have you done any Bitcoin investments before?”
OK let’s break this first part down.
I just got involved in Bitcoin. I must have signed up for something somewhere. But I do not remember what. Having my name, phone number and email address is no big deal at all. Hell, they are posted on my website. However, knowing that I have started with Bitcoin tells me that whatever website I signed into is sharing my information. (Normally this would be a concern but I need to have scammers call me for my research)
The Scammer sounds like he is trying to be helpful with my computer. And he stressed the word Investment and Trading. The same techniques for good customer service also work for scammers. Offering to help shift the conversation to where he is in control. (So he thinks …. Evil laugh)
Scammer: “So our service we do all the trading for you. So it will be easy to make money We will also give you a $250 risk-free bonus to start your trading. Do you want to make money?
Scammer: ” OK so we need a $300 minimum deposit to get you started. This means that you would have $550 in Bitcoin investments. Do you want to start making money? What credit card would you like to put that on?
Let’s break that down.
He starts with how easy it is for me to make money. This phrase hits two points. “Make money” and “Easy”. We already get the greed part of the conversation but the easy is to offer that hand at that part of our brain that is feeling uncomfortable about trading with Bitcoin.
This is a common sales technique I used to do this all the time when I worked as a furniture salesman.
He next mentions a risk-free Bonus of $250. Once again he hits both points. Greed and Making me feel better about trading online. But think about it .. what company is going to give you anything free over the price of $20? This would hit hard on the greedy part of my brain if money was a motivator.
He asks me if I want to start making money. Then waits for me to reply. This is a technique used to help embed the idea into my brain that I said “Yes”. As humans, we like to stay consistent. We like to be considered honourable, and a person of our word. So steering the conversation into a situation where I would say the word “Yes” out loud increases the chance that I would say yes to other things later. (Also used in sales techniques)
THEN he goes for the strike. Mentioning that there is a $300 minimum but then in the same breath shifts to how that would mean that I would have $550 in investments. This is called the disrupt and reframe technique. Our brains can only process so much information so it tries to keep the important information. In this case “Having $550”
Me: ” I do not give my information over the phone”
Scammer: ” OK well let me help you log in to our website and get started, I will send you the link to your email address”
He already had my information. At this point, I doubted for just a second if he was a scammer. (Con artists are good at casting doubt or removing it) At this point, I figured it was time to turn the tables.
By signing into their website there is a good chance that I would use the same username and password for some other account I have. With the information that they already seem to have it would be easy to get into one of my other accounts assuming that I used the same username and password (I don’t but having a different password is another blog post)
Scammer: “Do you have the link I sent you?”
Me: “Yes I do’….. but I have a question for you? Does your software work with Linux?”
Scammer: “What is Linux?” (He says with a little bit of concern)
Me: “Oh it’s the software I use for investigations into online scams”
Scammer: “Oh … Ummm …. I..Ummm don’t think it would cause a problem” (He was really sounding concerned)
I mentioned that I had to go.. So they asked if they could send me some material about the Australian laws involving trading. I of course said yes. I expected this to be the end of it. but no….
They called back 3 times! and emailed me!
They sent the email unfortunately that got nuked by when I cleaned out my email box (I have reported this scam to Scamwatch.) See even I can make computer mistakes.
The important part was that they had a lot of links in the email that pointed to real Australian legislation laws about trading bitcoin. but you need to ask yourself does that make it real?
NO! You could do the same thing with 10 min of research and a few links.
But they kept calling! And during the times when I was busy with work so I did not have time to play with them. When I told them about my research that they are setting off all kinds of alarms and I have already reported them.
A week later I see in the news about Crypto scams hitting Austrlaia.
Very interesting article. They talk more about the process that I could not see from my end.
Can I be Scammed? Yes!
How I get asked all the time if I can be scammed being that I study scams and disinformation. The answer is yes! Why because the moment I start to get arrogant in thinking that I’m too smart is when it will happen. The irony is that because I think like this it actually reduces the chance of being scammed.
Tips to avoid being scammed
- Just because they have your information does not mean they are real
- Never allow remote access into your devices
- Never give credit card, bank info or passwords over the phone.
- Never trust anyone who calls you out of the blue.
- When it doubt walk into your bank and report scams to the police.