A few days before Christmas last year, Philip Martin sat in front of his computer to check his cryptocurrency balance. It was the beginning of what would become, for him, an ongoing nightmare.
Martin told NBC News he thought he was typing the web address for his cryptocurrency exchange, Coinbase, the biggest and best-known company for consumers to store their digital money. But in fact, he says, hackers had spoofed the url, changing it so slightly that it even fooled his web browser — which prompted him to automatically enter his log-in and password.
The crooks now had all the information they needed to steal his life savings — and they did. Martin became the latest victim in what has been a wave of cryptocurrency hacks and thefts, one that experts say raises questions about whether better regulation is needed.
“It’s been very frustrating,” said Martin, who is out $165,000 worth of Ethereum, a popular cryptocurrency. “I’ve had panic attacks.”
Martin said he was able to trace where the thieves transferred his stolen crypto, given that all Ethereum transactions are published on a public ledger. He contacted both local and federal law enforcement. But to add insult to injury, the FBI field office in Los Angeles ultimately told him his loss was not large enough to merit investigation.
“Unfortunately, due to the dollar amount involved in your complaint, management has determined that it does not rise to our required threshold level and the FBI will not be moving forward with an investigation at this time,” wrote Special Agent Elizabeth Hammond, in an email Martin provided to NBC News.
Laura Eimiller, spokeswoman for the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, said she would not comment on any specific case.
“Like with many prolific and evolving schemes, we are not going to arrest or prosecute our way out of this,” she said. “Whether it’s individuals or businesses, education is the key. We urge people to visit IC3.gov (The Internet Complaint Center) to familiarize themselves with the latest trends.”
Martin also blames Coinbase, which bills itself as a “secure online platform for buying, selling, transferring, and storing cryptocurrency.”