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Ontario senior loses $80,000 to cryptocurrency scam

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An Ontario senior is still trying to recover the $80,000 she lost to a cryptocurrency scam three years later.

"I don't know how I fell into this trap, but they certainly caught me," said Lenora Bellehumeur, of Ajax, Ont. "They somehow managed to push all my buttons and made me trust them, so I put more money into it."

In March 2021, Bellehumeur said she saw what she thought was a news story about an investment opportunity in cryptocurrency that highlighted huge returns. After reading it, she said she contacted the company listed in the article, and someone immediately asked her to invest $250.

When it looked like her returns were going up, Bellehumer handed over more money. Eventually, she sent a total of $80,000. But when she tried to withdraw her money from the trading platform, she couldn't.

"That's a lot of money. That's a few year's income for me," said Bellehumeur.

Since March is deemed fraud prevention month, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) released its top 10 "riskiest" scam types in the country, placing cryptocurrency investment scams first.

According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, Canadians lost $309 million to investment scams in 2023.

Many Canadians who lose money to cryptocurrency investment scams are lured by the promise of easy cash after watching fake ads on social media that use artificial intelligence (AI) to impersonate celebrities, investors and news staff.

Angela Dennis, President of the BBB serving south central Ontario, said that many investment scams work the same way, as investors may believe their money is growing in value. But when they try to withdraw that money, they can't.

"When individuals are trying to take that money out, they are unable to and sometimes the app just disappears or the scammers will try to get you to put in even more money to reach a higher level," said Dennis.

In one fraudulent ad, viewed by CTV News Toronto, a video featuring Elon Musk – constructed by AI – sees the billionaire claiming millions of users were "able to close all their debts in their first week on the platform, buy a car a month later and buy their dream home six months later."

In the same ad, the pseudo-Musk can be heard saying, "If you don't make your first million in six months, I will personally give you a Tesla Model 3."

The Competition Bureau of Canada says AI can generate fake images and videos, impersonate well-known companies or individuals, use voice cloning for deceptive marketing and generate fake investment opportunities. Typically, AI-generated ads can look choppy with unusual mouth or body movements.

While many people see the fake ads online, Dennis said they can also be sent to Canadians directly through hacked social media accounts.

"You could be sent one of these ads and think it's from someone you know saying this is a great investment, you need to act now and click on this link. Then you find out it wasn't sent by a friend at all, but their account was hacked," said Dennis.

For the past three years, Bellehumeur has been trying to recover her lost funds and has not given up hope. She advises anyone thinking of investing in cryptocurrencies to be extremely careful.

"Stay away from it. It's too dangerous. Don't trust the ads and just be super careful, as money is just too hard to come by these days," said Bellehumeur.

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