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DA warns of cryptocurrency scams targeting seniors in western Massachusetts

 Crytocurrency in the form of bitcoin.
Jurnej Furman
Creative Commons / flickr.com/photos/91261194@N06
Crytocurrency in the form of bitcoin.

The Northwestern District Attorney's office in western Massachusetts is warning of an uptick in scams involving cryptocurrency.

Typically, a con artist will call someone, often elderly, and claim a loved one is in trouble and needs money. The victim is sent to a kiosk — similar to an ATM — that converts cash into cryptocurrency and delivers it to a digital account.

"Once that happens, it's virtually untraceable, unrecoverable," said prosecutor Steven Gagne. "And these victims are out sometimes in excess of $10,000."

Gagne said scammers can glean plenty of personal information through social media and public records, which is how they gain their victim's confidence.

"We've seen scams for years and years where elders are convinced to literally put cash into the mail and to mail it to the bad guys," he said. "But now all they have to do is go to one of these local kiosks, insert the cash, convert it to crypto, send it off. And it is so much quicker for the bad guys to accomplish that."

In recent months, Gagne has investigated three such cases at convenience stores in Greenfield and Northampton.

If his office is alerted right away, he said, sometimes the cash is still sitting inside the kiosk — but it's not clear who has the right to it.

"There is a legal issue involved as to whether or not that cash belongs to the crypto company that sponsors the kiosk or whether any of it can be returned to the victim," Gagne said. "It's kind of a novel issue that I don't think has really been litigated yet in Massachusetts. So we're looking to flesh that out."

For now, law enforcement is urging stores with crypto machines to keep an eye out for elderly people using them under duress.

Copyright 2022 New England Public Media. To see more, visit New England Public Media.

Karen is a radio and print journalist who focuses on health care, mental health, children’s issues, and other topics about the human condition. She has been a full-time radio reporter since for New England Public Radio since 1998. Her pieces have won a number of national awards, including the National Edward R. Murrow Award, Public Radio News Directors, Inc. (PRNDI) Award, and the Erikson Prize for Mental Health Reporting for her body of work on mental illness.

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