During an investigation by the Cyber Crime and Money Laundering Task Group of the United States Secret Service, 52 bitcoin kiosks were seized. This operation was part of a larger effort to crack down on financial crimes and protect consumers from fraudulent activities.
A Bitcoin (BTC) technology firm and its executives have been indicted for allegedly running an illegal crypto kiosk network in Ohio, which knowingly profited from victims of cryptocurrency scams.
S&P Solutions, operating as Bitcoin of America, and three of its executives have been charged with money laundering, conspiracy, and other crimes related to the operation of more than 50 unlicensed crypto kiosks in the state.
On March 1, a Cuyahoga County grand jury returned the indictment against the firm, its owner and founder Sonny Meraban, manager Reza Meraban, and company attorney William Suriano. Last week, the trio was arrested and search warrants were executed on their residences in Florida and Illinois.
According to Prosecuting Attorney Andrew Rogalski, romance scammers, law enforcement impersonators, and "robocallers" have taken advantage of the lack of anti-money laundering protections in the firm's systems to transfer funds out of users' crypto wallets.
Rogalski said at a press conference, "these ATMs are ready-made for scammers," since con artists target the elderly and other vulnerable people by directing them to Bitcoin of America ATMs to withdraw money from their savings accounts and 401(k)s.
The victims are told to deposit cash into the machine in exchange for Bitcoins in a wallet they believe to be theirs but actually do not control. An elderly guy lost $11,250 in under an hour to this scam after making three separate purchases from one of the suspect kiosks.
Rogalski warned that this type of scam is becoming increasingly common and urged people to be vigilant when using cryptocurrency ATMs.
The indictment against Bitcoin of America alleges that the company had been pocketing a 20% transfer fee each time a transaction occurred, even after they became aware of the fraudulent nature of the transactions. Furthermore, the company had been able to operate without a money transfer license due to written misrepresentations made to government agencies.
The company has other Bitcoin ATMs in Ohio and elsewhere; last week, 52 of them were seized. The U.S. Attorney's Office estimates that by 2021, Bitcoin of America had earned $3.5 million from cash deposits at these illegal kiosks.
It is believed that the company has been operating and dodging regulatory safeguards and financial compliance standards since 2018, prompting an investigation led by the United States Secret Services Cyber Fraud and Money Laundering Task Force.
In October, the FBI’s Miami Field Office issued a warning that crypto ATMs were becoming a popular vehicle for scammers to defraud victims in an increasing trend of “pig butchering” scams.
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