The New York Police Department (NYPD) has warned the public to be aware of phone scams in which callers impersonate government officials and demand payments in bitcoin and other methods.
Callers generally claim to be officials from the Social Security Administration or other law enforcement agencies and threaten victims, requesting bitcoin, prepaid gift cards, and bank wire transfers, NYPD said earlier this week.
The department said that scammers have already stolen over $2 million so far this year by defrauding more than 200 people. Last year, the NYPD received only three similar complaints with direct mention of bitcoin.
Victims are usually told by impersonators that their Social Security number is involved in illegal activity like drug trafficking or money laundering and that to protect their money or to avoid being arrested victims must send money in bitcoin to a certain address.
Scammers use a technology called “spoofing” to manipulate caller IDs to display phone numbers of the Social Security Administration and other official agencies. Sometimes, they also use the names of real officers, the NYPD said.
NYPD chief of community affairs, Nilda Hofmann, said:
“Sophisticated phone scams use the trust victims have in their own governmental and law enforcement agencies against them. Victims of this type of phone scam are not limited to senior citizens—these criminals are targeting every strata of society and every demographic is vulnerable.”
The department noted that it will never call individuals to ask for money or information over the phone.
Last month, the Berkeley Police Department also issued a similar warning, saying that scammers masked their own telephone numbers with official numbers on users’ caller id and demand payments.