Elderly Alaska couple scammed out of $1.2M in alleged cryptocurrency ‘money laundering pipeline’

The front of a building with a line of street lights lead to a building. The sign above the entrance reads "Federal Building US Courthouse."
The James M. Fitzgerald U.S. Courthouse & Federal Building in downtown Anchorage on Aug. 31, 2022. (Valerie Kern/Alaska Public Media)

Scammers stole nearly $1.2 million from an Alaska couple in an elaborate scheme that emptied their retirement savings and turned it into cryptocurrency.

That’s according to a court filing related to the federal government’s seizure of cryptocurrencies from accounts the scammers allegedly used.

The civil forfeiture documents filed Thursday do not name the scammers or the victims, who are both in their 90s and spend time between Alaska and Arizona.

The court papers lay out what federal authorities say happened:

In June 2022, one of the victims was working on a personal computer when a box popped up on the screen with a message claiming to be from the Microsoft Corporation. It said the victims’ computer had been compromised and gave a phone number to call for assistance.

They called the number, and on the other end of the line, the scammers posed as representatives of Microsoft and Morgan Stanley, which held their investments. The scammers told the victims they needed to transfer their retirement savings into what they were told was a government account to keep them safe.

At the scammers’ direction, the victims made a series of wire transfers to a bank in California, and then converted the funds to cryptocurrency in an account with the virtual currency exchange Binance US that was outside of the victims’ control.

The scammers then transferred the cryptocurrencies between other accounts in a series of moves that a federal attorney described in the court filing as a “money laundering pipeline.”

Agents with the Anchorage FBI office seized funds from five accounts in October 2022, but because the exchange rates for the various crypto currencies fluctuates, it’s unclear how much the seized funds are worth in U.S. dollars or how much of the stolen money it represents.

The assistant U.S. attorney assigned to the case did not return an email Friday seeking comment.

The civil forfeiture filing indicates that there is a criminal investigation associated with the case, but it remains unclear, so far, if the case will result in criminal charges against the alleged scammers.

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Casey Grove is host of Alaska News Nightly, a general assignment reporter and an editor at Alaska Public Media. Reach him atcgrove@alaskapublic.org. Read more about Caseyhere

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