Tampa Bakery Owner Loses Savings in Cryptocurrency

TAMPA, Fla. — Cybercriminals are creating fake cryptocurrency investment platforms to steal people’s money, according to the FBI.

A report released last week by the FBI shows that since last year, 244 people have fallen victim to fraudulent cryptocurrency investment websites, losing a total of $42.7 million.

The FBI said these websites claim crypto investors owe taxes or fees, and will threaten to take your money if you don’t pay more, which Tampa bakery owner Lorena says. Brunson, happened to him.

“We do birthday cakes, decorated sugar cookies, fruit bouquets, chocolate covered strawberries,” Brunson said.

After retiring, Lorena Brunson followed her dream and became the owner of Beanie and Bellies Cupcakery in South Tampa, but COVID hit her business hard.


“And I had lost my partner earlier this year, so I was struggling a bit money-wise,” Brunson said.

The bakery was in danger of sinking and she needed help. Then last month, out of nowhere, she said it looked like she was going to get the break she needed.

His son Joseph met someone on Instagram who introduced him to investing through a cryptocurrency website, and he was making money.

“I wanted to make sure it was legit, so I asked her if I could withdraw the funds, and she showed me how,” Joseph Brunson said.

He said after a week he was getting great feedback.

“So I was like all my family members, ‘Hey, that’s probably legit. Let’s try to make some money with this; it might help,” Joseph said.

So Joseph’s mother, Lorena, started investing what she had saved up, and at first she said everything went well.

“The money had doubled and tripled, and we thought, that’s great, let’s invest more,” she said.

They invested more. But when they wanted to make another withdrawal, they were told that they had to pay taxes or they would lose the money they had in their account. So they rushed to get tax money, even borrowing from friends and family.

“I took cash advances from my credit card because I can return it in a few days,” Lorena said.

They say they paid $29,000 but were told that because they had help from other people they had to pay a hazard cover fee.

“And then we had two days to get them the $62,000,” Lorena said.

At that point, they realized something was seriously wrong, so they filed a report with the police and the FBI.

But he was already too late. In one month, Lorena says she lost more than $100,000 and fears losing her bakery.

“I will probably lose everything,” Lorena said.

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She said the most frustrating part is that the website is still active.

Cryptocurrency expert Armando Pantoja said Brunson’s experience with the website follows a familiar pattern from cybercriminals.

“They take the money from you, the crypto. And then they are able to manipulate the database on this invented website. They can put whatever they want, they can say you have $10,000, $50,000, $100,000,” Pantoja said.

He said the website operator was threatening to take your money unless you paid more.

“Normally, it’s like you have to pay taxes or international exchange fees. They just offer something for you to send them more money,” Pantoja said.

The FBI said it is seeing a lot more of these types of cases, and the world of cryptocurrency is still very new to most people.

“That’s the other thing with cryptocurrency; it’s still a bit of the wild west,” said FBI special agent Sundanah Parsons.

Special Agents Sundanah Parsons and Kelly Shannon of the FBI’s Tampa Field Office say most crypto exchanges aren’t criminal, but if a fraudulent case comes from a foreign country, that’s a challenge.

“Criminals that may be located overseas or websites that may not be located here in the United States, it takes time to work with foreign partners and coordinate all of these investigative matters,” Shannon said. .

Ultimately, experts say you have to watch out for yourself.

Pantoja said some red flags in the crypto world are:

  • People who communicate via social networks
  • A website that looks outdated, contains stretched images, misspellings, or poorly worded sentences
  • Being in a hurry to make quick decisions
  • big returns

“An average return on the stock market is 9%, anything above that you have to do your due diligence,” Pantoja said.

This is something Joseph says he would have liked to have done more.

“It’s heartbreaking because I’ve never seen her (Lorena) cry, maybe more than once in my life. It hurt me a lot because she put all her trust in me” , said Joseph.

For Lorena, she said she wanted to pay back her friends and family and warn others.

“I would hate to have to see someone else go through all of this. You work hard for everything you have your whole life and take it all away in a month,” Lorena said.

We messaged the company whose website displays Brunson’s crypto account. There was no phone number, only a gmail address. We have not received a response at the time of this publication.

The FBI encourages people to report any cybercriminal activity to the nearest FBI field office.


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