CHICAGO (WLS) -- The crypto craze and con artists who are looking to capitalize on your big investment have resulted in victims being scammed out of large sums of money.
Cryptocurrency is growing in popularity and so are the scams. The Federal Trade Commission said in the United States there were more than $451 million in losses for most of 2021. Those crypto-criminals are preying on people as they learn to navigate this new investment.
"You had your dream ready and it gets take away from you," Bridegview resident Matthew Gesell told the I-Team. He hoped his big investment in cryptocurrency would help him and his new wife buy a house.
He connected online with a financial advisor and attorney, or so he thought.
"He started saying he can help me with my trading on the crypto market and boost my returns," he said.
That attorney advised Gesell to invest $19,000 into a legitimate cryptocurrency exchange platform. But then the man convinced Gesell to move that money to a third party website, where it would supposedly make considerably more money.
Gesell said that investment skyrocketed to more than $30,000 but then the site shut down. His money was gone. He reported the fraud to authorities. His personal bank, where the funds were initially withdrawn, did issue a refund.
"It's a huge victory. So we can now start shopping again for a home," Gesell said.
A report from data and research platform Chainalysis said in 2021, scammers made off with a record $7.7 billion worth of digital currency worldwide.
"Cryptocurrencies are decentralized so there's no backing from the government," said Ryan Weemer, a criminal analyst at Homeland Security Investigations in Oak Brook Terrace.
The Department of Homeland Security is warning people about new crypto schemes which are on the rise.
"Typically these are individuals that are posing as investors or as investing companies and representing themselves to individuals usually with false promises or guarantees," Weemer said.
That happened to local crypto investor Ina, who asked us not to use her last name. She met a man on social media who convinced her to buy cryptocurrency. He sent her a video of himself saying, "I'm really trying my best to earn your trust." He told Ina he could help ease her fears about investing, "I'm making this video because it's kind of scary for you".
She opened a crypto account and bought $1,000 in bitcoin from a bitcoin ATM.
Ina decided to invest.
"I created the account under his guidance," she said.
The bad actor told her to move that bitcoin into another crypto platform which would be a so-called better investment. Like Gesell, both her money and the so-called investment site disappeared.
"I mean, I lost the money, that was my mistake," says Ina. "I want to make people aware."
"If you want to get involved in investing in cryptocurrencies, do your research," advised Weemer. "I always tell people to do general searches on Google; for example, you can research that cryptocurrency and add words like scam or complaint."
You should also look for the "https" at the beginning of the website URL to avoid cloned websites.
"Misspellings on websites are signs of scams," warns Weemer. "I would never trust anyone from online again. You don't know who it is on the other side of that screen."
If you're a victim, report it to local police and Homeland Security Investigations. Agents there also say you should always use a strong password and use two-factor authentication on crypto accounts.
Click here for more information on reporting scams and frauds to the government.