More than 100 people reported they’ve been ripped off in Brevard County
BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – It’s a mind-boggling, eye-opening story involving your friends and neighbors losing millions of dollars and an investigator who got much of it back.
Twenty percent of Americans have gotten involved in cryptocurrency, mainly the popular Bitcoin, so scam artists have too – even in Central Florida.
Just in Brevard County, more than 100 people have reported they’ve been ripped off.
Brevard County realtor Isabel Castro is one of them.
“So one of my friends on Instagram was posting the screenshots of pretty hefty deposits on his Cash App account,” Castro said. “And so it was late at night and I messaged him and asked him if it was legit and he was like ‘yeah.’ And we went back and forth a little and I thought I was talking to him. I trusted my friend, I’ve known him since grade school.”
She painfully discovered it wasn’t her friend at the other end of an Instagram message urging her to buy Bitcoin cryptocurrency and send it off to a crypto-exchange site for a big return.
“So I was seeing my deposits inflate as I sent money from my Bitcoin wallet, but then I couldn’t pull any of the money out,” Castro said.
Anyone can buy digital currency online; Bitcoin is the most popular.
But these days, more people are buying Bitcoin at their local pharmacy or gas station and paying an obnoxiously high commission. News 6 found crypto ATMs inside several convenience stores and pharmacies in Rockledge, just down the road from the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office.
And most of the people using the new-age ATMS are buying Bitcoin not for an investment, but because they’re being scammed and don’t know it, according to Brevard County Sheriff’s Office Agent Justin Wood.
“It’s huge,” Wood said. “This is one of the fastest growing frauds.”
Agent Wood is the lead cryptocurrency investigator at the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office’s Economic Crimes Unit. He’s also on the Secret Service’s Cyber Fraud Task Force.
Wood said more than 100 crypto fraud victims in Brevard County have lost more than $4.5 million in total. Isabel Castro is one of them. Agent Wood handled her case.
“The coach told her to send bitcoin to this address and you’ll see a great amount of return on your investment,” Wood said.
Castro kept buying more Bitcoin and transferring more to the crypto exchange site. She poured in $9,000 of her money until she realized she was being scammed.
“Until I realized this is going to go on forever, I’m never going to see this again,” Castro said.
Agent Wood, through his unique crypto-fraud training, followed the funds.
“And we can see they’re sent to a series of different digital addresses and ultimately they funnel into one digital address,” Wood said. “And we can see it’s located at an exchange. A cryptocurrency exchange company.”
Wood sent the exchange company a search and seizure notice to freeze the funds and get back Castro’s money. The exchange complied and returned Castro’s $9,000.
Castro’s case was only the latest where Wood got results.
“We’ve done probably about a hundred cases and I’d say we successfully made probably about 30 recoveries,” Wood said.
Agent Wood is one of the few investigators in Florida who’ve trained with the Secret Service at their digital currency course in Alabama. He alone has closed 80 cryptocurrency cases in Brevard County.
“In the past three years we’ve successfully seized and recovered about $700,000 worth of cryptocurrency,” Wood said.
Wood said as much as people would like to believe that crypto currency can make them a quick buck, anyone offering quick and high returns is likely a scammer.
And anyone who pressures you into buying cryptocurrency is likely a scammer, Wood said.
Castro said she wishes she had picked up the phone and called her “friend” to discover his Instagram account had been hacked.
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About the Author:
Erik von Ancken anchors and reports for WKMG-TV News 6 (CBS) in Orlando and is a two-time Emmy award-winning journalist in the prestigious and coveted “On-Camera Talent” categories for both anchoring and reporting. Erik joined the News 6 News Team in 2003 days after the tragic loss of space shuttle Columbia.