RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Ever since their introduction, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have attracted attention by their ability to make money quickly.
However, the murky world of cryptocurrency also attracts those looking to steal your money.
One of those scams left a Raleigh woman out thousands of dollars.
Unlike real coins, Bitcoins are intangible. You can’t put them in your pocket and unlike a U.S. coin, which is worth a consistent value, Bitcoin’s value varies literally changing every 30 seconds.
That rapid valuation change is what makes it an attractive investment for some.
That was what enticed Claudette Robertson to try Bitcoin.
“I wanted to supplement my income to buy furniture and things I needed because I can’t walk,” she said.
As it turned out, a woman who befriended Robertson online offered to help her supplement her income.
“She got in touch with me and said ‘I can help you,'” said Robertson. “I said ‘OK, what do i need to do?'”
The woman told her, “You need to invest $500.”
She directed Robertson to a website calling itself Legal Trade Pool, and Robertson’s $500 soon appeared to be worth more according to a dashboard graph provided by the company for her account.
“I had made a profit of $10,000 in about a week,” she said. ” I don’t know a lot about Bitcoin but I know you can make money fast, so I was excited.”
However, accessing that cash was where her troubles began. The company wanted her to pay to get her money.
“I had to pay $550 for a VAT code,” she said. “I didn’t know what that was.”
By now her dashboard showed she made close to $15,000, but she still couldn’t access her cash despite giving the company money for the so-called VAT code fee.
After paying her $550, she was told she now had to pay again to get an upgraded account.
Robertson was told to upgrade her account she needed to give the company $1,000.
“I said I don’t have a $1,000,” said Robertson.
She told the woman from Legal Trade Pool, “I gave you money I shouldn’t have given you. I need to pay my rent.”
Consumer Investigator Steve Sbraccia began digging into the company calling itself Legal Trade Pool.
Its website lists a location in generic office building in Atlanta.
If you scroll through the website, you come to a section with photos listing “their team.”
One of them is a photo captioned Marjorie F. Pizzaro, who is supposed to be its market analyst.
When Sbraccia did a reverse image search on that photo of the woman, he found the same photo was used on 10 identical looking crypto websites.
Among them, Crypto Option FX, Agnico Mining, Apex Crypto Mining, FX Stack Option, Elite Bitcoin Mining and five others.
Many of the websites like Legal Trade Pool use the same Atlanta address while another lists a Knoxville, Iowa address, and one lists an address in the country of Cyprus.
Sbraccia tried to call the company using the phone number listed on the website. It has a New York City area code.
A person who answered refused to talk on the phone instead sending Sbraccia a text saying, “We need to talk on WhatsApp.”
Sbraccia sent an email to the company wanting to know where it got the photo of the woman they called Marjory F. Pizarro.
After some online digging, Sbraccia found the woman. She’s an actress and motivational speaker from Australia named Anastasia Cortez.
Cortez said she didn’t realize at first the crypto websites people were using her photo until her fans notified her.
“I didn’t, but my followers did,” she said.
It angered Cortez because she said, “I have a reputation to build.”
Cortez said her followers would tell her, “You are talking to me on your other account. I said I don’t have another account, so they send me screenshots.”
Since that time, Cortez said she’s found more than 50 sites using her photo illegally.
Sbraccia wanted to know if there anything she can do legally from Australia to stop these people from using her photo.
“I don’t think so,” she said.
Meanwhile, the email Sbraccia sent to Legal Trading Pool asking about the photos of their so-called “team,” and about the other websites using that photo went unanswered.
Robertson said after she refused to give the company any more money to access her account, they stopped talking to her.
“I feel embarrassed, and I feel angry,” she said. “I’m in a bind where I need to pay bills and I can’t because they took all my money.”
Those agencies have the resources to go after the company.