A Brookline woman may have lost more than $300,000 in a fraudulent cryptocurrency investment scheme, possibly run out of Taiwan, but the US Attorney's office in Boston says it has begun proceedings to recover $73,586 of the money after tracing it to an account on a crypto trading site.
The "money" now sits in a cryptocurrency "wallet" set up by the Secret Service as prosecutors move to permanently take the money and return it to its original owner. Authorities can state how much the online currency is worth because it had been invested in Tether, a "stablecoin" where each unit is worth $1 in greenbacks. Other cryptocurrencies have more of a stock-market feel and their value can rise or fall daily.
An affidavit by a Secret Service agent (linked below) describes both how cryptocurrencies work and the fraud allegedly committed against the woman, with the roughly $74,000 eventually traced to an account Binance, a crypto trading site. The destination of the rest of her money was not described, however.
The agent says that the victim, identified in the affidavit as W.Q., contacted the Secret Service in January, "providing information indicating she was the victim of a cryptocurrency trading scam."
W.Q. explained she was initially contacted on October 20, 2021 by an individual named "Mingfeng QIAN" through a LinkedIn request she received via email. A subsequent search of LinkedIn was conducted for the individual who contacted W.Q. with negative results.
After connecting on LinkedIn, the individual or individuals purporting to be QIAN then began communicating with W.Q. through two messaging applications, Whatsapp and Line, installed on W.Q.'s iPhone 11 mobile telephone. W.Q. received communications on these messaging applications from QIAN utilizing a specific phone number. W.Q. stated all messages with QIAN were typed in Chinese. W.Q. stated she understood Chinese and spoke Chinese as her native language.
QIAN told W.Q. that cryptocurrency trading was an easy way to make profits. W.Q. stated she had never purchased or sold cryptocurrencies before she began communicating with QIAN.
W.Q. provided investigators with screenshots of her communications with QIAN. The screenshots show messages typed in a language appearing to be Chinese and W.Q. provided translation to English. In one message on October 27, 2021, translated by W.Q., QIAN told her: "Market is looking good recently. 15-20% profit is not a problem if you follow my instructions." In a November 11, 2021 message, QIAN said: "I have been doing this for 7 years, never lost money."
As evidenced by W.Q.'s messages and statements, between November 12, 2021 and January 19, 2022, the individual or individuals identifying themselves as QIAN instructed W.Q. to transfer approximately 303,712.96 USDT [Tether units] to cryptocurrency wallets. W.Q. stated she followed QIAN's instructions and opened an account at OKEX cryptocurrency exchange (OKEX rebranded to the name OKX in January of 2022)
Then "Qian" told her she needed a specific trading app, called TMS. W.Q. searched both the Apple and Google app stores but couldn't find it. "Qian" then told her to go to the TMS Web site, where she'd find links. And, the affidavit continues, she did - only what looked like Apple and Google app links were actually direct links to apps housed on that site, rather than on the software stores, which meant they were not subject to Apple and Google verification.
After W.Q. downloaded the Apple app, she alerted "Qian," who responded: "There will be good opportunities next week, if we add more capital, we can make more
profit, hundreds of thousands of dollars is not a problem."
W.Q. stated that on January 7, 2022, she tried to withdraw money from the TMS application, but had received a message from this application stating she needed to contact "Tmsfin.com" customer service. On this date, she utilized the TMS application on her iPhone 11 to communicate with "Tmsfin.com" customer service and was instructed she needed to pay tax on earnings in her account. These instructions caused W.Q. to make the final (of 9) transfers of USDT from her account at OKEX to the destination wallet address provided by "Tmsfin.com" customer service. W.Q. made this transfer, but was still unable to withdraw any money from the TMS application.
The affidavit continues that the Secret Service has identified the owner of the Binance account to somebody with a Taiwanese passport whose name "is known to law enforcement." A warrant in the case was mailed to somebody identified only as C.H.H. with an address in New Taipei City, Taiwan.