Cryptocurrency transactions are still something of the Wild West, and scammers are using that to their advantage.
According to a warning from Attorney General Kwame Raoul, thieves claiming to be affiliated with ComEd are contacting Illinois residents and threatening to shut off their electricity unless a purportedly “past-due” bill is paid immediately. The victims of the scam are being told to make their payment via Bitcoin, a form of currency that’s almost impossible to recover, even once the con is discovered.
“Scammers are demanding cryptocurrency because it is immediate and irreversible — by the time you make the transfer, it is too late,” Raoul said in a statement. “It is imperative that people avoid becoming a victim by being aware that ComEd will not collect payments at kiosks that issue cryptocurrency.”
Digital currency is exchanged online, without going through an intermediary such as a bank. In the absence of such an intermediary, there’s no entity to address problems during transactions or prevent fraud, the attorney general’s office stated. Furthermore, Bitcoin payments do not come with the legal protections that accompany credit and debit cards.
According to Raoul’s office, the rate of cryptocurrency scams has skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic, reaching a total of $64 million in losses nationwide between Oct. 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021.
It’s always a red flag if a scammer threatens to disconnect service, Raoul said. Illinois law requires utilities to provide at least 10 days’ notice, in writing, before taking such an action. Another tip-off you’re being scammed: requests for payment via prepaid cash card, wire transfer, gift card, mobile app or cryptocurrency.
To report a potential scam, call the consumer fraud hotline: 800-386-5438 (Chicago), 800-243-0618 (Springfield), or 800-243-0607 (Carbondale).