Crypto catfish warning

Cryptocurrency scams are on the rise as scammers turn to dating apps to lure their victims. Photo: Aimee Glossop

A Perth woman has warned others of the dangers of online dating after she was the target of a cryptocurrency scam that swindled her out of $30,000.

Sara Pedras, 30, had recently joined popular dating app Plenty of Fish when she came across the profile of a man named ‘John’ in March.

The two messaged frequently and John soon offered to teach Ms Pedras about cryptocurrency investment, under the guise of creating wealth to buy a house together.

Sara Pedras took a liking to John, who promised a happy life for her and her daughter. Photo: Sara Pedras

Ms Pedras was persuaded to transfer funds from her existing Binance account to a Gemini account John helped her to create.

He advised her on how to trade on the platform and at first, Ms Pedras saw her account value rise and successfully withdrew funds to her bank account several times.

She had invested $10,000 in savings and a further $20,000 bank loan in the platform before the illusion crumbled.

When she could no longer withdraw funds, Ms Pedras realised John was not who he claimed to be and the Gemini platform had been fake all along.

“I realised I was never going to get our money back and I felt like a fool.”

Sarah Pedras

The interaction turned sinister when John began to send threats to Ms Pedras, which prompted her to file two police reports.

A threatening message Ms Pedras received after confronting John over the scam. Photo: Sara Pedras

She said the experience was “sickening”, and she suffered hair loss and struggled to eat or sleep.

“I don’t wish that on anyone. It was so much pressure,” she said.

Ms Pedras is now juggling motherhood with working two jobs to recover her debt.

Romance and dating scams grew by more than 44 per cent last year, according to ScamWatch, with Australians losing a reported $56 million.

Known as romance baiting, scammers connect with their victims via dating apps before offering help to invest in cryptocurrency.

The scammer will often ‘fatten up’ their victim with initial repayments before bleeding them dry of their savings, a technique referred to as ‘pig butchering’ by cryptocurrency platform Bitcoin.

Perth dating coach Debbie Rivers said despite age stereotypes, young people are more frequently becoming targets of online romance scams.

“When you’re lonely and you want to meet someone and someone tells you what you want to hear, it’s easy to start to believe it,” she said.

Ms Rivers said online daters should meet or call potential love interests early on and reject any financial advice.

Data from ScamWatch indicates romance cryptocurrency scams are on the rise. Photo: Aimee Glossop

While cryptocurrency scams are growing, so are the innovative businesses helping to empower victims.

Australian company Cybertrace provide cyber investigation services, including helping victims trace and recover cryptocurrency lost to scams. 

Cybertrace chief executive Dan Halpin said the company helps victims of cryptocurrency-enabled romance scams in several ways.

“If a website was used as part of the crime, we can undertake a forensic explanation of the website to identify the operators and collect evidence,” he said.

Mr Halpin said he expects this scam type to continue increasing in severity, and encouraged people to undertake a free website risk assessment using Cybertrace’s Scamsleuth tool before investing.