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I-Team: Woman Warns Others After Losing $2.5M In Cryptocurrency Romance Scam

BOSTON (CBS) - Cindy Tsai says it started with a seemingly innocent message. A man who called himself Jimmy texted her on WhatsApp. "Are you Linda from the pet store?" Cindy said. "And I messaged back and said wrong number."

That text quickly escalated into the two sharing personal information and Cindy telling Jimmy she was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. Cindy says, Jimmy was attentive, good looking and was a comfort for her during a difficult time. Cindy says she was also going through a divorce and in her mind the friendship became a relationship.

It didn't take long before Jimmy began showing Cindy how much money he was making trading in cryptocurrency and offered to help her invest on the platform he was using. At first Cindy was skeptical. "I basically said, look I don't need a financial advisor, I am not giving you a dime," she said.

But Jimmy told her that she would control her own account and he wouldn't get any of the money. That's when Cindy says her interest was piqued. Using the link Jimmy gave her, Cindy set up the account.

Matthew Giacobbi, the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Boston Division, says these are growing schemes. Once the victim clicks on the link, it takes them to a spoofed site or close to a legitimate site that traders in cryptocurrency use and that looks very real but it is not. "They've become very sophisticated at making these websites look real when they're not," Giacobbi said.

Cindy's investment started out small but over a few months grew to $2.5 million. All of that money is now gone. The FBI estimates in 2021, 24,000 people fell victim to these types of scams losing about a billion dollars.

Giacobbi says with cryptocurrency, once you give someone your digital wallet and key, that money is gone instantly, and it is very difficult for law enforcement to track.

Cindy says she became suspicious after having a hard time withdrawing money. The site wanted hundreds of thousands of dollars for taxes and also wanted to charge her to expedite her withdrawal. By then it was too late.

A global victims support group says with predators on every social media site anyone can unwittingly become a victim. Grace Yuen with the Global Anti-Scam Organization says everyone has insecurities and when the predators find it, that's when they get you. "That's what makes it so insidious," Yuen said.

Cindy who's a lawyer, admits she saw the red flags. "It's interesting the disconnect between your logical self and your emotional self once you have that relationship," she said. "I was the most vulnerable in my entire life and I desperately wanted to believe him. My mission is to let everyone know, whether people judge me or don't judge me I want to raise awareness."

Cindy did file a report with the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center. The FBI tells us the best way to protect yourself from becoming a victim, don't invest with people you only met online, do your homework, don't click on hyperlinks and never give your banking information or digital wallet to anyone. And if you believe you have been scammed report it to the FBI.

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