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A bilingual warning poster taped to a Bitcoin ATM.

RCMP in Alberta post warnings at Bitcoin ATMs

RCMP Cst. Andrew Devine proposed warning signs at Bitcoin ATMs while investigating a fraud case. Credit: Cst. Andrew Devine, RCMP


RCMP in Alberta are posting warning signs near Bitcoin ATMs throughout the province, in the name of fraud prevention.

"These aren't small crimes," says Cst. Andrew Devine, an officer with the RCMP's Red Deer detachment. "People are losing their life savings in these scams."

Devine was investigating a fraud where a phone scammer posing as a police officer convinced the victim that their identity was compromised and putting money in a Bitcoin automated teller machine (ATM) would protect their assets.

The investigation is ongoing, but Devine wanted to help prevent others from losing their money. He proposed a warning sign to post near Bitcoin ATMs.

"We know fraudsters are pressuring victims to these specific physical ATM locations," he says. "It made sense to place a warning."

The signs outline common scams involving cryptocurrency and remind the public to only deposit Bitcoin into accounts they control.

Unlike other payment methods, which can offer some forms of fraud protection, when Bitcoin is sent there's no way to reverse the transaction and the paper trail lacks any identifying information.

Devine recently talked with a store owner hosting a Bitcoin ATM who says that, a few times a week, people approach the machine, read the warning sign and turn away.

The RCMP started posting the warnings in central Alberta in late 2019. They now appear across the province.

Evolving frauds

Investigators have seen an increase in fraudsters using cryptocurrency to steal and hide their illicit funds. The decentralized system allows money to move around the world with limited oversight.

"Scammers have evolved to using cryptocurrency," says Cst. Scott Noseworthy, an RCMP financial crimes investigator in Alberta. "In the past, it was mainly gift card and e-transfer fraud."

Noseworthy says the best way to protect yourself from a scam is to be aware and double check. If someone says they're from a police or government agency and claims you owe them money, call that agency's official phone number.

"It's best to educate yourself and stay up to date on information from official sources," says Noseworthy.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre reported more than 46,000 cases of fraud in 2019 and estimates only five per cent of cases are reported.

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