A 23-year-old Calgary man says he was tricked out of thousands of dollars by an online hacker posing as a cryptocurrency seller.
Brendan Lebert, who had previously held legitimate online investments, says the scam was sophisticated enough to fool him — and he’s worried others could fall for it too.
“I want people to understand just how easily this can be done,” he told CTV News. “I mean, I’m a young person, I feel like I’m very tech-savvy and I have a degree in justice studies. I thought that I knew how to avoid these types of situations, and yet they still got me.”
Lebert says he was contacted late last month through Instagram by someone who he thought was an old friend. After a few messages back and forth, that person convinced the Calgarian to pay into a website that trades in crypto.
Lebert was told the site would help him invest in Bitcoin.
“I had no reason to distrust this person,” he said. “I thought I knew them.”
And his first investment seemed to pay off.
“I thought that in one day with a $1,000 investment, I made $6,700,” Lebert said. “I was very excited. I told my friend, well, the person who I thought was my friend, ‘this is amazing. We are on the ground floor for something big here.'”
But Lebert had no idea the person he was messaging on Instagram wasn’t his friend. He now believes the social media account was hacked by a fraudulent investor hoping to trick Instagram followers by preying on their personal connection.
When Lebert went to withdraw what he believed to be a successful investment, he says he was told to pay even more to access his own account.
“They said I could cash out, but before I do that, there’s a processing fee that I have to put up,” he said.
“I thought I knew this person, so I thought I had no reason to worry. It was finally when they asked for a $3,500 insurance fee, I finally clued in. I can’t believe what I just walked in to.”
In total, Lebert says he gave away almost $7,000 before realizing his investment wasn’t real.
Similar crypto scams are common.
“If you want to (invest), certainly do your homework,” said University of Calgary finance professor Alfred Lehar. “Security cost and the responsibility on crypto is on the user, so you have to be very careful.”
Lehar recommends searching online for reputable crypto investment websites before spending any amount.
He also recommends keeping a personal eye on any money invested — and potentially even speaking with a financial advisor before making any big decisions.
“(Scammers) want to take advantage of you, especially since there’s not so many people who are well-versed in how crypto really works,” Lehar said.
The world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, Binance, said in November that global regulators should establish rules for crypto markets in order to protect users and prevent financial crimes.
Lebert wishes someone could have helped him. He’s currently working with police and his bank to recover the stolen funds, but says he isn’t optimistic the case will be solved.
“My heart is broken,” he said. “I worked very hard for my money and I feel so ashamed. I feel embarrassed.”
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre has more information about cryptocurrency scams and how to report them on its website.