New Brunswickers are being warned about two potential scams — one that involves fake NB Power calls and the other a website that claims to be a "cryptobank."
The province's financial watchdog said potential investors in the digital currency frenzy should be leery of the unregistered online bank Bitcoin-bank.io now being advertised on Kijiji.
It's asking people to surrender their cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin or regular funds and invest in an initial coin offering, or ICO, supposedly being launched.
"Cryptocurrency is a complex thing," said Jake van der Laan of the province's Financial and Consumer Services Commission. "It can be intimidating for a lot of folks to get their head around."
"Cryptocurrencies are really a virtual-something, there's nothing behind it. It's like buying stock in a company that has nothing and does nothing. There are a lot of risks."
There are well over 1,300 cryptocurrencies worldwide, with little regulation, making it ripe for abuse.
"The risks are all high, and people shouldn't be putting money in cryptocurrencies unless they're prepared to lose that money altogether," he said.
"The scams are more prevalent all the time, almost to the point where if we tried really hard we'd find one or two a day without too much effort."
Spelling mistakes, phony profiles
Bitcoin is the "new, bright shiny object," said van der Laan, which scammers are trying to leverage to rip people off.
In this latest case, the commission found on closer review that the cryptobank website had no presence at its advertised street location in California.
And many of the photos accompanying team profiles on the website had been taken from other sites with fake names attached.
Web content was also copied from other websites and contained spelling mistakes.
"A healthy level of skepticism on the part of the consumer is a great thing, and they should call us if they have questions or doubts at all," van der Laan said.
"If you're seeing something that's of interest, do some research, Google the particular name of the investment, find out who is behind it, ask your friends, your lawyer, your accountant to assess if it's something you should look at."
Fraudulent water tank calls
Another scam making the rounds is targeting NB Power customers around the province.
A dozen customers reported receiving calls from a 519 area code, in which someone on the other end of the line said they would come by to inspect their water tank.
"They certainly are not NB Power employees," said Marc Belliveau, a spokesperson for the utility.
"We're not entirely sure what the purpose of the calls are, or how it would escalate, because it's never gotten to that point yet."
Belliveau advises people to phone the police or the Financial and Consumer Services Commission if they've been contacted about water tank inspections.
"We rent tanks, but normally a customer will call us and ask to inspect them," he said. "It's an incoming call to us usually.
"It wouldn't be a cold call going out to customers."
March is Fraud Prevention Month. More than 1,000 New Brunswickers reported being targeted by fraud in 2017.