Discover more from Court Watch
‘Hello Sir/Ma’am’: Person Linked to Scam Asks FBI for His Seized Cryptocurrency Back
The FBI froze cryptocurrency stored in a Binance account the agency believes is linked to a scam targeting an elderly victim. The apparent owner would like it back.
By Joseph Cox
This article was produced in collaboration with 404 Media, a new independent technology investigations site.
A person linked to a scam that tricked an elderly victim into transferring more than $100,000 formally requested the FBI give back his seized cryptocurrency, claiming in a petition to the agency that he is a part-time crypto investor and not doing anything illegal, according to a recently filed court record. 404 Media also reached the person by email and they largely repeated the same story.
The request is an unusual sight, and, to be frank, probably not going to work. In the court record, authorities allege that the frozen funds are linked to a scam of a victim in the U.S. The document says authorities seized just under 18,500 Tether, valued at around $18,500, in July with a federal search warrant.
“Hello Sir/Ma’am, My name is Vishal Gautam,” the request starts. “The funds which you have on hold that is a very big amount of money for me and my family, I request you to please release it from your custody. Thank You & Regards.”
The message says that Gautam lives in India and as well as investing in cryptocurrency, he is a “full-time Health Insurance” worker.
“In the month of July 2023 suddenly my crypto from Binance got disappeared, I don’t know how it happened but then I got to know that the FBI has put hold on my assets,” the message continues. “I am not into something illegal and never will be, I will not do any such thing that can harm your country or your people in any manner.”
U.S. authorities, meanwhile, allege that the seized cash is connected to a fraud scheme that targeted a senior citizen in Knoxville, Iowa. In February, this victim opened an email on her iPad that claimed it had been compromised, and that she needed to contact the sender for assistance, according to the court record.
The victim called this person, named “Mark,” and they claimed to be with the U.S. Department Treasury, the document continues. Mark explained that the victim’s iPad had been hacked by someone in Russia or China, pornography was planted on the device that could get them in trouble, and that they needed to send $10,000 in Walmart and Dollar General gift cards in order to fix the iPad and locate the hackers, the record continues. That same day, the victim bought $12,100.11 worth of gift cards and sent the account numbers to the scammer, it adds.
Just over a month later, a second fraudster identified in the document as “Steve” contacted the victim and claimed they were an employee from Apple. They convinced the victim to withdraw $150,000 from her retirement account to purchase Bitcoin, the document continues. This scammer also had the victim download an application onto her phone—the fraudster was seemingly able to watch the victim’s activity because they corrected the victim when she made a typo while using CryptoFi, a platform for purchasing cryptocurrency. A day later, the scammer tricked the victim into sending $99,000 to CryptoFi, the document reads.
“While Victim # 1 was conducting the $99,000 wire transfer, bank employees tried to convince her she was being scammed, but they could not dissuade her from making the transfer,” it reads. Later that day, the victim bought just over 3 Bitcoin and sent it to another Bitcoin address. The owner of that address then transferred the funds to Paxful, a cryptocurrency exchange. Records Paxful voluntarily provided to the FBI linked to that account included a Gmail address and listed the owner as someone called “Sachin.” Later, the scammer tricked the victim yet again to transfer another $50,000 to CryptoFi, the document adds.
The FBI followed the Bitcoin to an account on Binance under the name Vishal Gautam, the same name given in the petition to the FBI asking to unfreeze the funds.
In July the FBI seized the $18,500 in the Binance account, and in September Gautam filed his petition with the FBI. In the petition, Gautam claimed “I have had these assets in my Binance account for the last 1.5 year.” But as the FBI writes, “The foregoing statement by Gautam is false or inaccurate insofar as the Defendant Property was not in anyone’s crypto account for 1.5 years prior to September 22, 2023, or even 1.5 years prior to the date it was seized, which was July 17, 2023.”
Reached by email, someone who said they were Gautam told 404 Media “I’m the owner of these funds because I bought them and invested in them.” They added “I bought these funds through Online Exchange called Paxful.”
Notably, this person replied to 404 Media using the first email listed in the court record. That is, the one linked to an account that on Paxful, and not the email linked to the Binance account. In other words, this person is closer to the scam itself than their statement to the FBI alleges.