Don't click that link: OBPD sees rising number of cryptocurrency cyber scams on elderly population

The Ormond Beach Police Department, armed with new software, is hoping to be able to successfully investigate fraud cases — but prevention and early reporting is key.

The Ormond Beach Police Department. File photo by Brian McMillan
The Ormond Beach Police Department. File photo by Brian McMillan
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A 71-year-old man sent $50,000 to a person he met in an online chat room, thinking he was investing in a Belgian mine. A 60-year-old woman was told to pay $4,300 using Apple gift cards and Zelle for a puppy. A 78-year-old woman mailed a stranger $8,500 in cash to bring her alleged boyfriend home from the war in Gaza.

These are all fraud cases reported to the Ormond Beach Police Department within the past year. Like many law enforcement agencies, fraud accounts for the majority of OBPD’s cases each year.

Last year, OBPD saw 246 reported fraud cases. In 2022, there were 231 and in 2021, there were 212. So far this year, 34 cases have been reported.

“Criminals adapted to fraudulent activity because it’s harder to find them, harder to prove it, harder to track,” Ormond Beach Police Sgt. John Dovine said.

And criminals are continuing to adapt, as the city is now seeing a growing number of fraud cases involving cryptocurrency. Detective Jessica Fowler, who has been investigating these kinds of cases for three years, said the department used to see one fraud cause involving cryptocurrency — such as Bitcoin —every few months. Now, it’s a few cases a week.

But the department, she said, is also advancing.

“Five years ago, when we couldn’t work these cases, now we can,” Fowler said. “We’re seeing how in depth they go. They’re leading us to all different countries — working with other agencies. We’ve been lucky enough to obtain certain software that allows us to now investigate them fully and hopefully reunite the victims with their funds.”

'A national security issue'

Between 2018 and 2022, according to the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center, Americans lost  $27.6 billion to cyber crimes — fraud, identity theft, scams, data breaches and other criminal acts using technology. 

What could scams look like? Here are three examples. Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock/synthetick

In 2022, the losses accounted for 37.9% of that five-year total: Americans reported $10.3 billion in losses to cyber crime with 800,844 complaints reported to IC3. Total losses reported by elderly victims increased 84% according to IC3's most recent elder fraud report. In 2022, 88,262 victims over the age of 60 filed a complaint with IC3, reporting a total loss of $3.1 billion. 

"Tech and Customer Support schemes continued to be the most common type of fraud reported, with 17,800 complaints filed by victims over 60," the report states. "Monetary losses due to Investment Fraud reported by victims over 60 increased over 300%, more than any other kind of fraud, largely due to the rising trend of cryptoinvestment scams. In almost every crime type tracked by the IC3, losses involving cryptocurrency increased. Overall, cryptocurrency-related losses reported by the elderly increased by 350%."

Victims over the age of 60 reported an average loss of $35,101, and 5,456 victims lost more than $100,000.

Similarly, the scams that OBPD sees are typically not small amounts of money. They're also thousands and thousands of dollars, and all of which mainly, Fowler said, target elderly victims.

It's not like they're creating a scam here in Ormond Beach — they're global. This is not just a threat on Ormond Beach, but this is a national security issue." — PAULINE DULANG, OBPD spokeswoman

A victim may receive a phone call alleging that they have missed jury duty and now have a warrant out for their arrest. To avoid arrest, the scammer then claim the victim must pay them a large sum of money, using a cryptocurrency ATM or gift cards.

"No reputable business or government agency will ask you for payment in those types," Fowler said.

Bitcoin ATMs are more commonly found in gas stations and pharmacy retail stores such as CVS and Walgreens.

"These suspects know where they are in our area," Fowler said. "They will literally give the victims directions on how to get there, and they look like normal ATMs, so the victims don't always understand, 'Hey, I'm putting in $10,000 to buy these types of tokens.' They just think it's a payment system."

Cryptocurrency isn't illegal. But, people need to be aware that scammers are using it to commit crimes, Fowler said.

The suspects are usually not from the area either, OBPD spokeswoman Pauline Dulang said.

"It's not like they're creating a scam here in Ormond Beach — they're global," she said. "This is not just a threat on Ormond Beach, but this is a national security issue."

One active fraud case OBPD is working involves a victim who lost $400,000 of her life savings, Dovine said. That was a case type referred to as a "love scam," where a suspect creates a "relationship" with their victim, sometimes for months, and once a relationship is established, the suspect continuously asks the victim for money.

The elderly victim was flagged by the U.S. Secret Service, who contacted OBPD and asked them to speak with the victim and inform her she was being scammed.

"It was very hard to tell her that this wasn't real," Dovine said. "She had developed a relationship with someone she thought was real. It's tough, especially at their age —they're lonely, sometimes they're widowed."

Police: Report scams ASAP

When it comes to working fraud cases, time is of the essence, Fowler said.

"[Victims] need to get it reported as quickly as possible, because as soon as the suspect have their money, they're moving it, and the more they move it, the harder it is to find," she said.

Even if people suspect and are not sure that they're being scammed, Fowler suggests they call the department's non-emergency line, 386-248-1777. They can also report the scam to, the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center website.

These crimes are all preventable, Fowler said, but the victims don't know that. The officers do.

[Victims] need to get it reported as quickly as possible, because as soon as the suspect have their money, they're moving it, and the more they move it, the harder it is to find." — JESSICA FOWLER, Ormond Beach Police detective

A lot of people are often embarrassed to report fraud crimes, Fowler said. Sometimes, they tell police they lost a smaller sum of money to the scam than they actually did.

Dovine encouraged victims not to feel this way.

"They feel like they're embarrassed for falling for something they thought that they shouldn't have," Dovine said. "So a lot of times, they don't come forward and report it, or tell their loved ones out of embarrassment."

Now that the department has new software to help investigate these cases, Fowler said she can't help but look back at the hundreds of victims whom they could have helped in years prior.

"The fact that I look back now — so many cases that if we would have had the software, or if the software would have even been developed back then — we might have been able to refund and reunite," Fowler said. "But, moving forward, we can. We can work these cases to the best of our ability and hopefully get to that point."


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