Massachusetts woman nearly loses $30,000 in Bitcoin ransomware attack

SUDBURY — Earlier this month, police say an elderly woman withdrew $30,000 from her bank account and headed to a Bitcoin ATM in Sudbury.

Police say they learned the woman, from Lincoln, was being directed by someone who claimed to be from Microsoft‘s support team, who was on the phone with her providing instructions. 

However, Sudbury police said, the woman was being scammed — the person on the phone was not a Microsoft employee. 

“She was hacked,” said Sudbury police spokesman Lt. John Perodeau. “Fortunately, we were able to intervene and she was able to deposit the money back into her account.”

According to Bitcoin.org, as cryptocurrency grows in popularity, so too are scams involving the digital currency. They work similarly to traditional scams such as when someone posing as being from Social Security tells the target that if they pay a certain amount of money, they qualify for a prize of some sort.


In this case, it appears the woman fell victim to a ransomware attack, Perodeau said. Someone hacked into her computer and took over control of her files and documents. She was given a telephone number for what she thought was Microsoft support as part of the attack, which she then called seeking help.

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She was directed to buy Bitcoin and then provide Microsoft with the code. 

“Once you provide them the code, the money is gone,” Perodeau said.

Such scams are getting easier because more cryptocurrency ATMs are popping up, including in Framingham, Natick, Marlborough, Sudbury, Hopedale and other communities.

Other than the recent Sudbury case, police have not had any reports of similar scams.

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How to help protect elderly residents from online scams

Older people are often targeted in such scams, Framingham Director of Elder Services Grace O’Donnell said. She said many communities, including Framingham, seek to educate both seniors and their families about scams, and also try to keep up on the latest ones so they can make people aware.

However, she said, a lot of seniors are victimized because they believe the best of most people.

“Most of us are good-hearted people and don’t want to think the worst will happen,” O’Donnell said. “We always recommend getting another person’s perspective. Sometimes just talking about it can make people realize something isn’t right.”

The state Office of Elder Affairs, as part of tips it provides to help people avoid being scammed, said people should never give out personal information on the phone or email if they did not initiate the call. Also, if the person seeking information uses pressure tactics, do not provide the information.

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The woman in Sudbury was lucky, Perodeau said. A clerk at Sudbury Sundries saw the woman putting a large amount of money into the Bitcoin ATM and noticed she was on the phone at the same time as if being directed by someone and stopped the woman and called police.

Unfortunately, another person who falls prey to a similar scam may not be as lucky, Sudbury police said.

“This is the second time (that we know of) we’ve investigated a large dollar scam at this Bitcoin machine, the first victim was not as fortunate, but we still are hopeful that our investigation will allow us to return nearly $50,000,” police said in a statement.

Norman Miller can be reached at 508-626-3823 or nmiller@wickedlocal.com. For up-to-date public safety news, follow Norman Miller on Twitter @Norman_MillerMW or on Facebook at facebook.com/NormanMillerCrime.