Bitcoin Theft

The FBI is warning of a rise in Bitcoin ransom scams in which scammers use scare tactics and extortion to squeeze money out of victims in the form of Bitcoin payments.

“Fraudsters are leveraging increased fear and uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic to steal your money and launder it through the complex cryptocurrency ecosystem,” the FBI warns.

a gold coin etched with the Bitcoin "Capital B with vertical strokes" and circuit traces in the background

Unfortunately, the cryptocurrency payment leaves no room for reclaiming the lost funds. Here’s all you need to know about these scams and how to best protect yourself.

How the scams play out
In some Bitcoin ransom scams, scammers hijack an email address associated with a business website and contact a client of the business. The email informs the victim that a hacker has found a vulnerability in the company’s website and is holding the victim’s data hostage until a Bitcoin payment is made for its release. The victim, fearing monetary loss, may comply with the scammer and make the payment. In reality, though, the scammer has only hacked into the company’s email database. They have no access to the customer’s sensitive information.
While the scammer can hijack any website that has access to clients’ sensitive information, financial institutions like Advantage One Credit Union, are especially vulnerable to this scam. We utilize strict protective measures, like encryption and updated security software to protect our members’ information, but fraudsters may still try to scam members by persuading them that their data is at risk of being exposed.

In another variation of the Bitcoin ransom scam, scammers use “sextortion” to take the victims for money. They’ll claim to have evidence of the victim engaging in questionable internet usage and threaten to share this information with the victim’s contacts unless a ransom payment is made immediately. Some criminals have taken this scam a step further during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the threat of releasing the information they supposedly have on the victim, they’ll also promise to infect the victim and their family with the coronavirus unless a payment is sent to a Bitcoin wallet.

Protect yourself
Fortunately, ransom scams are easy to spot. If you receive an email allegedly sent from a business you use, and it contains a message similar to what’s described above, do not respond. You can contact the company yourself to ask if there has been a data breach. You will likely learn there has not been any sort of breach within the company.

Similarly, if you receive an email threatening to expose your internet usage history and/or to infect you or your family with the coronavirus, do not respond. Mark the email as spam and delete it promptly.

If you’ve been scammed
Unfortunately, cryptocurrency transactions pose an extra risk by being absolutely final. There’s no way to cancel a cryptocurrency payment, back out of a purchase or trace the Bitcoin wallet to its owner.

However, if you believe you’ve been targeted by a Bitcoin ransom scam, you can help prevent others from falling victim by reaching out to the appropriate authorities.

If the scammer posed as representatives of Advantage One Credit Union, be sure to let us know! We’ll send out a warning to all of our members and caution them not to respond to any emails claiming to have hacked our database or to have accessed our members’ sensitive information. If the scammer is posing as a representative of a different company, it’s a good idea to let them know about it, too.

It’s equally important to alert law enforcement agencies about every scam attempt. The FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division has a team that’s dedicated to preventing and fighting cryptocurrency laundering and fraud. If you are the victim of a cryptocurrency scam or you’ve been targeted by one, be sure to contact your local FBI field office or visit the bureau’s Internet Crime Complaint Center . You can also alert the Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov.

Many people are struggling with financial hardships due to the economic fallout of COVID-19. Unfortunately, scammers are trying to make a difficult time even harder by extorting victims for money. Stay alert and stay safe!

Your Turn:
Have you been targeted by a Bitcoin ransom scam? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
consumer.ftc.gov
bitcoin.com
fbi.gov

 

Cryptocurrency Hacks

A man and a woman using laptop computers at a kitchen tableCryptocurrency is all the rage. Money you can’t see? Online accounts that aren’t regulated by big banks or even the feds? It has a futuristic feel, and anyone and everyone seems to be buying into the trend.

Lots of those folks who are buying up bitcoins by the hundreds claim cryptocurrency investment is the ticket to a richer tomorrow. But security experts think otherwise. They’ve repeatedly warned that all cryptocurrency is extremely vulnerable and at risk of being hacked – and that includes yours.

Is cryptocurrency the wave of the financial future, or is it really as risky as experts would have you think?

Before making your decision, read on to arm yourself with all the information you’ll need about cryptocurrency hacks.

How it works
Cryptocurrencies are decentralized and unregulated. That means there is no single country or institution controlling bitcoin, Ethereum or Litecoin. These currencies are, consequently, extremely volatile and vulnerable to risk. Since all cryptocurrency transactions are processed online, a hacker can simply break into crypto exchanges, drain people’s wallets and disappear without a trace.

As you may expect, hackers have been following the meteoric rise of cryptocurrency and are eager to cash in on the prize. They’ve been systematically frauding the system for years, and have only gotten bolder over time. In the most recent major heist, hackers made off with an incredible $530 million in cryptocurrency from Coincheck, the leading Asian bitcoin exchange, this past January.

And experts predict that it will get worse.
An Ernst & Young report studied 372 preliminary coin offerings between 2015 and 2017 and found that more than 10% of the funds were stolen, amounting to as much as $1.5 million a month.

It’s not only individuals who’ve been defrauded; the report shares that huge companies have lost several million dollars on hacked cryptocurrency.

According to Chainalysis, a risk management software company for virtual currencies, more than 50% of these hacks occurred through phishing.

In other instances, hackers have modified malware to redirect bitcoins to their own wallets during a trade or purchase. This scam is particularly nefarious because the hackers snag the victim’s exchange credentials and login information so they can gain complete control of the mark’s bitcoin wallets.

By extension, this means the hackers have also accessed the victim’s credit card information and can do untold damage to their credit score while racking up huge bills in the victim’s name.

Any way you slice it, cryptocurrency hacks pose a major risk to all investors and users.

Who’s paying?
Nearly 20% of bitcoin investors purchase their cryptocurrency using a credit card – and almost 25% of them cannot pay off their credit card balance after making this purchase.

Some credit card companies are ready to throw in the towel on cryptocurrency. They’ve had their fair share of headaches caused by cryptocurrency hacks aimed at their cardholders, including disputed charges, fraudulent transactions and the inability to pay for large purchases.

Earlier this year, many major credit card companies, including Discover and Capital One, announced they will no longer allow cardholders to purchase cryptocurrencies using their credit cards due to the high level of risk and potential fraud associated with such transactions.

Lots of financial institutions have followed suit with similar announcements, claiming the increased volatility poses a loss to the institution, which may be forced to pick up the pieces for their member if a cryptocurrency investment or purchase is hacked.

Are cryptocurrency exchanges government-regulated?
The short answer is no. The very attraction of bitcoins and Ethereum is that they are decentralized, answering to no institution or government.

A little digging reveals that some foreign countries, like China, are actually taking stronger approaches toward protecting their citizens from cryptocurrency fraud and are coming down hard on all scammers and hackers.

For the average U.S. citizen, though, when it comes to cryptocurrency, you’re on your own.

Protecting yourself
Cryptocurrency transactions pose an extra risk by being absolutely final. There’s no way to cancel a cryptocurrency payment, back out on a purchase or secure an anti-fraud guarantee from a reputable financial institution. In case of fraud, you may be able to trace the computer that was used for robbing you, but it’s nearly impossible to identify the scammers that took off with your money.

In other words, by using cryptocurrency, you’re putting yourself at significant risk. There’s no one protecting you and no way to undo the damage once you’ve made a payment that’s been hacked.

The only thing you can do is take proactive steps to be as careful as possible when engaging in crypto-payments:

1.) Stick to established, recognized exchanges, like Coinbase.

Only use exchanges you’ve heard of, and only those that utilize two-factor authentication.

2.) Don’t store too much digital currency online.

It’s best to store your money as actual greenbacks in a brick-and-mortar financial institution. You can keep some cash in your wallet or even hoard it in a home safe, but be careful not to put too much in an online digital exchange.

3.) Keep your OS and security software up-to-date.

Always accept and install the most recent patches and updates when they become available. To ensure your system doesn’t fall behind, elect to have it update automatically.

4.) Be wary of suspicious emails and links.

Never share sensitive information over the internet, no matter how sincere or urgent an email or link may appear to be. Don’t download anything from an unverifiable source, and keep your spam settings working at their strongest capacity.

Cryptocurrency may be the dollar bill of the future, but don’t fall prey to the many criminals who are counting on consumer naivety to make a quick buck. Use caution and be on guard to keep your money safe!

Your Turn:
Do you use or invest in cryptocurrencies? What precautions do you take against hacks? Share your own tips with us in the comments!

SOURCES:

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.nbcnews.com/business/business-news/amp/hidden-dangers-buying-virtual-currency-go-beyond-simple-hack-n852706

http://money.cnn.com/2018/01/29/technology/coincheck-cryptocurrency-exchange-hack-japan/index.html

https://www.fool.com/investing/2018/01/29/after-the-biggest-cryptocurrency-hack-ever-bitcoin.aspx

What are Online Currencies?

Bitcoin and other online currencies, explained

man holding gold bitcoins in his upturned palmsIn the past several years, one of the most confusing terms to appear in the financial world has been “online currency” or, more specifically, “cryptocurrency.” Some bear seemingly silly names, such as the internet-meme-inspired Dogecoin, but the most famous, and certainly the most discussed, is Bitcoin.

However, the question remains: just what are these online currencies?

The basics
As TechRepublic points out, there are a few terms commonly used interchangeably for online currency, but which have different meanings. The first is “virtual currency” or “online currency,” which was identified by the U.S. Department of Treasury as operating like traditional currency but without legal tender. The European Central Bank defined it as unregulated digital money, usually under control of its developers, and used among specific online communities.

The second term is “digital currency,” which is a virtual currency that is created and stored electronically.

The third term is “cryptocurrency,” i.e. a digital currency which uses cryptography for security to make it difficult to counterfeit. This most specific subset, of which Bitcoin is the best example, is notable for not being issued by a central authority.

Cryptocurrencies are the most-used online currencies and have gained significant traction with established merchants as well as individuals. However, security is a higher risk. CNN Tech points out that Bitcoin in particular is stored either on a personal computer, where the coins can be accidentally deleted or destroyed by viruses; or the cloud, which can be hacked.

Value of these currencies, according to Bitconnect, is affected by a large number of factors, such as supply and demand and its utility, but is made “because people think it has value and use it as a unit of exchange.”

The reasoning
According to a paper published by the creator or creators of Bitcoin under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto, one major reason for the creation of cryptocurrencies is to eliminate the need for a “trusted third party” in online transactions, which for the most part are financial institutions. This also eliminates transaction fees and the need to share personal information along with the currency, which previously was needed to ensure trust between the buyer and seller.

More plainly, this means a transaction that only involves the buyer and seller with no associated handling fees, which can be performed entirely anonymously.

The sources
To describe where these currencies come from, we will stick with Bitcoin, as the most widespread cryptocurrency.

According to CNN Tech, Bitcoins are generated by a process known as “mining,” where people use computers to solve complex math problems with specific, open-source software. In this way, the more powerful a computer is, the faster is can “mine” for the specific number of possible Bitcoins—although, as TechRepublic points out, this process places high demands on hardware power and uses a lot of energy, leading some groups of people to pool the power of their computers and share the resulting profits.

The future
The future of these online currencies is presently unclear. Bitconnect points out that the value of online currency faces significant legal and governmental issues, as most countries have yet to form legal precedents relating to them. Some have even banned their use, or given them an official status so that they can be taxed as income. In general, regulations surrounding online currencies are still in development.

Meanwhile, the future within the cryptocurrency community, which according to Investopedia uses over 700 different currencies, is also uncertain. Wired explains that there is a growing movement to merge all of the online currencies with technology that would allow each to interact with one another, known as the “interledger protocol.” This is led by the company which oversees the cryptocurrency Ripple, with support from Microsoft and the World Wide Web Consortium. In essence, this would allow one person to send any currency and have it arrive as any other currency.

In any case, online currencies are clearly not about to disappear, and could potentially have a great effect on the future of worldwide commerce.

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.