A Tennessee woman said she lost $390,000 belonging to herself and her father after she fell for an online crypto dating scam. After losing her mom, 24-year-old Nicole Hutchinson inherited her mother’s house which she sold and split the proceeds with her father. The $280,000 she inherited was supposed to go toward helping her family and building a life in California.
As a way to make new friends before moving to California, Hutchinson began to use the online dating website “Hinge.” She said she met a man who called himself “Hao” and they became friends. She told CBS News’ Consumer Investigative Correspondent Anna Werner that she felt a strong connection with him when he told her he came from the same town in China from where Hutchinson was adopted.
He was into investing and cryptocurrency and suggested she too could invest.
“I’m like, ‘I’ve never invested in my life.’ I don’t know anything about cryptocurrency either. So I was very skeptical,” she said. Hutchinson said that Hao reassured her that this was an area he knew well.
Hutchinson said Hao told her to create an account on a legitimate site, Crypto.com. Then she said he sent her a link and told her to transfer money to the new link, to what he said was a cryptocurrency exchange platform.
She started small but said she soon started investing larger amounts.
“He just kept saying things of, like, ‘Look at this money that can help support your family.’ Obviously that’s what I wanted to do,” she said.
When her account began showing profits, she suggested to her father that he invest too and so he did.
By December, their accounts showed a combined balance of $1.2 million, and Hutchinson decided it was time to cash out. That’s when the site told her before she could withdraw her money, she would have to pay a hefty “tax bill” of roughly $380,000.
She discovered that the cryptocurrency investments weren’t real. All her and her father’s funds had gone into the scammer’s pockets.
“I messed up my life. I messed up my dad’s life,” Hutchinson said.
When she tearfully told her father about the scam, he comforted her.
“All I could do was just hug her and tell her ‘It’s okay. It’s okay.’ And it was hard. It was hard. It was, we lost everything,” Melvin Hutchinson said.
They’re not alone: a new report found that just in 2021, cryptocurrency scam victims lost more than $7.7 billion.
Rich Sanders investigates cryptocurrency scams as co-founder of the company Cipherblade. When he looked at Hutchinson’s transactions, he described it as a “pig-butchering scam.”
“The name really comes from the fattening up before the slaughter,” Sanders said.
In Hutchinson’s case, he found her money started in those legitimate cryptocurrency accounts but the links the crooks told her to transfer the money to were digital wallets belonging to the scammers.
Cipherblade’s review found additional fake accounts the company says appear to be linked to the same scammers. The company told CBS News that the scammers may have stolen more than $20 million.
Sanders said that the money likely went to an organized ring of scammers operating out of Asia who prey on inexperienced victims.
“I think he really played off that I was naive and not knowing anything about crypto, and taking that and running with it,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson and her father are now living in his RV and hope their story can help someone else avoid the scam.
“I just hope others don’t have to fall for it. So if me sharing this story helps that, then I’m so grateful for that opportunity,” she said.
Crypto.com warns consumers to take steps to be sure any accounts they’re moving money into are legitimate.
The company says it takes a proactive approach to threats and immediately takes down any wallets linked to a scam. The dating app Hinge told us it takes fraud “very seriously” and has trained content moderators who look for evidence of fraud.