Chiranjeevi lives in Hyderabad, India, with her young family.
He is a smiling guy, glass half full, naturally positive and full of energy.
He’s also smart and works at an Indian tech company.
They are the least likely person, you would think, to be the victim of an online scam.
However, in October he was cheated out of his life savings: $ 4,000 (£ 3,000).
I could not believe it.
Estaba tan estresado. Estaba simplemente perdido. Le dije a mi esposa y ella dijo: ‘Pensé que eras inteligente. ¿Cómo perdiste tanto dinero? ‘”
Me envió un mensaje a fines de octubre de la nada, contándome lo que había sucedido.
Sin embargo, no solo me estaba hablando del engaño. Me estaba advirtiendo.
Porque lo fundamental de la estafa fue una versión distorsionada de mis informes.
A principios de este año, me dieron acceso a una mina de Bitcoin en el estado de Nueva York. Hice un informe al respecto, centrado en cómo la minería de Bitcoin produce emisiones de carbono.
Sin embargo, ese no es el informe que vio Chiranjeevi.
El 18 de octubre se incorporó a un canal de Telegram llamado B2C Mining.
Telegram es un servicio de mensajería encriptada, como WhatsApp, pero con “canales”, que puede parecer más un grupo de Facebook.
El canal B2C Mining afirmó ser parte de una empresa que poseía y operaba una mina de Bitcoin en Rusia.
En la parte superior del grupo, anclado al canal, estaba mi informe … solo que no era exactamente mi informe.
Había sido alterado, eliminando todo lo que tuviera que ver con el cambio climático y sugiriendo que la mina sobre la que había informado era en realidad del canal.
“Pensé que era muy genuino”, dice Chiranjeevi. “Eso es lo que me atrajo”.
“Pensé que habías visitado la empresa minera”, me dijo. “He estado viendo la BBC desde que era un niño y tiene reputación en todo el mundo”.
También había otros videos, de clientes felices que habían ganado dinero. La gente también había publicado los logros obtenidos.
Chiranjeevi estaba intrigado.
La compañía afirmó extraer criptomonedas a pedido, con ganancias asombrosas.
“Dijeron que los extraerían durante 24 horas y que podrían generar alrededor del 20 al 40%, dependiendo del tipo de criptomoneda”, dijo Chiranjeevi.
El grupo tenía casi 3000 miembros. ¿Seguramente tanta gente no podría estar equivocada? Decidió darle una vuelta.
Chiranjeevi was starting to panic.
But it was too far. He had spent all his savings and was now borrowing money from his family. But even then, he made one last payment, hoping, praying, that it was real.
It was not.
“The fallacy of sunk costs, time pressure, good cop / bad cop … It’s a classic scam,” says Jessica Barker, author of Confident Cyber Security.
Barker says that Telegram’s end-to-end encryption, combined with a growth in users, has drawn more and more scammers to the platform.
As part of my research on the group, I came across another man who had been misled. It took him a bit of time to talk to me, and he did so on condition of anonymity.
The student, who is 19 years old and also from India, told me that he lost his savings and those of his family.
I wanted to mine on a smaller scale, initially with $ 15.
Peavsky began to pressure him to invest more. “Can’t you borrow money from family and friends?” he said.
Finally, the student did. He promised the people he loved that he could give them huge profits in exchange for their rupees.
But to her horror, requests for payment for “just one more” began to pour in. If you did not pay within a certain period of time, your entire investment would be lost.
He borrowed more money and eventually gave Peavsky $ 400, a huge amount for him.
The student began to realize that it was a scam. Terrified, he began to beg Peavsky for his money back.
Finally, Peavsky asked him, as if it were a rescue video, to upload a clip of him saying how satisfied he was with the service.
So who took the identity of Vladimir Paevskiy?
The two scam victims I spoke to paid Peavsky using different cryptocurrencies.
To do this, they needed to send the money to the scammer’s digital wallet, which has a specific identification number.
“Frank” works for Whale Alert, an organization that monitors crypto transactions. He is an expert in monitoring and analyzing crypto-scams. You have asked us not to use your last name.
“These are not professionals,” says Frank.
They had used the same wallet over and over again, making about 60 payments on a single account.
In total, he found out that the group had scammed $ 25,000. There are also likely more that Frank couldn’t find.
The scammers were making money but had been careless.
The group redirected cryptocurrencies that had convinced people to pay for them on various cryptocurrency exchanges, where the coins can be exchanged for cash.
Two of the exchanges were in India: bitbns.com and wazirx.com.
“Why would someone from Russia go to an Indian exchange to exchange cryptocurrencies for rupees?” Says Frank. “I guess these scammers are not from Russia, but from India.”
“It is almost certain that Peavsky is not a single person. He is an organized criminal gang,” he says.
Chiranjeevi always thought he was talking to a Russian. The scam was so compelling that even now, when you tell him that Peavsky isn’t a real person, he can’t believe it.
That the scammers are likely from India is good news for victims.
“In theory, there is no reason why the Indian authorities cannot find these people and return their money,” says Frank.
The information Frank collected has been turned over to the National Cybercrime Department of the Indian Ministry of the Interior.
These types of scams can have a devastating impact on victims and their families. And the scale at which they operate is enormous.
On the day I interviewed Frank, he had personally seen $ 58,000 being sent to crypto suspects. It is a fraud on an industrial scale.
Chiranjeevi still can’t believe he was ripped off. Such was the stress he was put through during the five-day extraction process, that he says he was almost relieved when he finally found out it was a scam.
“My wife forgave me,” he says.