Bitcoin investment scams using fake celebrity endorsements continue to be rife. Johanna Butt, 83, of Oxfordshire has bravely shared her story with us.
This is a guest post by Johanna Butt. All views expressed are Johanna’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?.
It was purely out of curiosity that I contacted Bitcoin Loophole. I saw an ad on Facebook which featured a picture of Deborah Meaden and said the company had been successfully featured on the programme Dragon’s Den.
So I called them last August and the man I spoke to was extremely plausible. Over the course of two hours he explained to me how it all worked, how they made me money and what was in it for them.
He didn’t pressure me into investing but made it sound all so sensible – he even asked how I’d spend the money I’d make. I told him I’d like to go on a nice holiday.
The minimum amount to invest was £300 and, even though I didn’t know what a Bitcoin was, I thought ‘what’s the harm?’ It would have been a serious annoyance to lose £300, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world. I gave him my debit card details.
‘I started to feel uneasy’
It was about 9.30pm when I finally hung up but quickly started to feel uneasy about what I’d done. At 7am the next morning, I checked my bank account online. All my money was there but I still wanted to tell my bank, NatWest, to stop the payment. I called them at 9.30am but was only able to get through to them at midday.
By then there were pending payments for £300 and four other payments for an additional £8500. There wasn’t even that much in my current account, but years earlier I’d connected it to my savings, so they’d gone into that too.
I was horrified. But I was told because the payments were pending, there was nothing NatWest could do to stop them.
I was put through to the fraud department and Action Fraud – but no one was able to stop these scammers draining my savings. I was so upset. It was absolutely horrendous.
Seven months of hell
I asked myself how NatWest allow this to happen? I’ve been a customer with them for decades and at no point have I ever taken out more than £500 at a time? And at the very least not to a company warned about by the FCA?
The next day, I went back down to the bank branch and told them I wasn’t leaving until I saw the manager. We spoke for two hours and he told me that because I’d apparently opened a trading account, there was nothing they could do even though I’d never authorised that. All I thought I was doing was investing £300.
The whole experience was terrible. I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t eating, I was stressed out of my mind. I started getting the worst heart palpitations which eventually put me in the hospital. It was horrific.
It was seven months of hell. I had to pick up odd jobs just to survive – they took all my money. I couldn’t stop crying for months and I absolutely never cry.
On top of struggling to survive, Bitcoin Loophole wouldn’t stop calling. They called at 7am, at 11pm, they were relentless and I had to stop even answering my own phone. It wasn’t until I gave them my daughter’s number who gave them an absolute ear-full that they finally stopped calling.
Which? Money Helpline intervenes
At the end of my tether, I called the Which? Money Helpline who intervened. They told NatWest that I’d only authorised the original £300, not the rest.
Then one morning in late February, as I was eating my breakfast I went to pay a bill online. There was magically £8,500 sitting in my account paid from the original debit card I gave to Bitcoin Loophole back in August but quickly cancelled. It was so bizarre. But there it was, my money reimbursed and an extra £300 compensation for what I went through.
It was without a doubt the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. I’d do anything to stop these people and warn others.
Johanna’s heartbreaking story is another reason why we’re renewing our warnings about the dangers of these social media Bitcoin scams, which claimed more than £15 million last year.
I’d strongly recommend that anyone unfamiliar with cryptocurrency scams reads our guide, which explains what they are and how you can avoid them.
Michael Tomlinson, the Which? Money Helpline advisor who dealt with Johanna’s case says:
We hear many reports of cases where celebrities’ names have been falsely used to endorse some dodgy investment. Stay clear of these online ads because alarming sums of money are being lost to them. It’s wise to always check that an investment company is on the FCA’s register, so that you know it is genuine.
In Johanna’s case, she authorised a payment of £300, but she did not authorise the remaining £8,500. Unless Natwest could prove you’d been grossly negligent, it must reimburse the unauthorised transactions made from your account.
We helped her raise a formal complaint to Natwest. She’d also complained to the Financial Ombudsman, which was about to review the complaint when Natwest changed its mind. It has now fully reimbursed her for all of the money she lost and paid her £300 as compensation.
Have you ever seen a Bitcoin ad on Facebook? Was the celebrity ‘endorsement’ enough to tempt you? Let us know.