Fraudsters used a bitcoin ATM to steal $38K; sheriff sues to get it back

CoinFlip ATM in Denver Maia photo scaled

A CoinFlip ATM is seen inside CNP Laundry, 2218 N. Downing St. in Denver, on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023. (Maia Luem/BusinessDen)

Twenty-four minutes after midnight, Gordon Goff knew that something was wrong.

The day before — Nov. 4, 2022 — there had been a phone call from San Francisco. A fraud investigator from Wells Fargo, the man said, calling with bad news. There had been a hack, the man said, and Goff stood to lose $42,000 from his account. Unless he drove.

Drove from his home in rural Logan County to a Wells Fargo branch in Sterling and withdrew $42,000 in cash. If a bank teller there asked any questions, Goff was to tell them it was for home improvements. He was not to use his cellphone or talk about the hack.

Then he was told to drive again, to a nondescript gas station in Sterling, feed $42,000 worth of $20 and $50 bills into a cryptocurrency ATM there, and punch in a password (8-9-8-8-5) to send it away to the man on the phone. The man who would save his bank account.

And Goff had done it all — almost. He and his wife had withdrawn the cash, driven to Everyday Convenience at 11 a.m., and spent four-and-a-half hours sliding bills into the ATM. They stopped only because the machine filled up. It couldn’t hold more than $38,100.

“I seen them put money into it, then leave, come back in and repeat,” Chaze Winters, a cashier, later told deputies. He was surprised that an older couple was using a bitcoin ATM.

Goff called the man in San Francisco. Was $38,100 enough? Could the remaining balance of $3,900 be forgiven? Yes and yes, he was told. The Goffs had saved their account.

Now, eight hours later, Gordon Goff knew that something was wrong. So, he called police.

Everyday Convenience Sterling Logan County

Everyday Convenience, at 303 N. 3rd St. in Sterling. (Logan County Assessor)

“This is the first time I’ve ever seen anything like this, with this amount of money,” says Lt. Bill Dolan with the Logan County Sheriff’s Office, who investigated the Goff case.

“They’re just the nicest older couple that you’ve ever met,” Dolan said of Gordon and Mary Goff, who are both in their seventies. “To watch them get defrauded is just horrible.”

Investigators caught a break initially. The ATM, owned by a company called CoinFlip, is emptied on Thursdays. Nov. 4 was a Friday, so the Goffs’ money was still inside. The sheriff’s office obtained a search warrant and seized the machine the next day. CoinFlip sent a courier to open it and remove $38,100, which was then locked away in an evidence room.

“We made a phone call to Homeland Security,” Dolan said, “and asked if there was any way they could help us. They came back saying, ‘Yeah, there’s not a whole lot we can do.’”

The Goffs were unwitting victims of an international cryptocurrency crime ring. An agent at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Donald Hilling, traced the bitcoin they bought to Singapore, where it was transferred to a crypto exchange called Kucoin. As he told Dolan, the ATM fraud that ensnared the Goffs has taken $40 million from victims to date.

“Based on prior investigations we have conducted, Kucoin does not comply with U.S. (law enforcement), thus we are at the end of the investigation,” Hilling emailed him May 21. “Sorry to give the bad news, I wish we could have done more to recover their money.”

The names of the people who robbed the Goffs will most likely never be known to them. That man on the phone from San Francisco called himself Viktor Krum, almost certainly a fake name lifted from the “Harry Potter” books, in which Krum is a quiet quidditch star.

“I’m not a Harry Potter fan but our DA was like, ‘His name, that’s from ‘Harry Potter!’” Dolan said, referring to 13th Judicial District Attorney Travis Sides. “I was like, ‘OK.’”

There was little that Sides could do to obtain justice for the Goffs. Homeland Security closed its case in June. The next month, Sides determined that the Goffs “were victims of theft and possibly extortion.” But he can’t charge people in Singapore that he can’t name.

“That is the part of this that is so frustrating,” Dolan said by phone last week from Sterling.

ATM scaled

The $38,100 that was removed from a CoinFlip ATM in Sterling on Nov. 5, 2022. (Logan County Sheriff’s Office)

Police and prosecutors still had one tactic to try though. They had an evidence bag full of those greenbacks that Gordon and Mary Goff spent hours feeding into the CoinFlip ATM. So, Sides ordered the sheriff’s office to return that $38,100 to the couple on July 13.

“They would seem to have the best ownership claim…as they would have been entitled to $38,100 in restitution had the suspects been identified,” he wrote in a memo. (That and other reports cited in this article were obtained from Logan County via records requests.)

Sides’ order met resistance from CoinFlip, which believes that money deposited in a CoinFlip ATM belongs to CoinFlip. On Sept. 13, Logan County Sheriff Brett Powell sued CoinFlip in a Sterling court and asked Judge Stephanie Gagliano to resolve their dispute. Gagliano ordered the money to be placed in a court registry for safekeeping until she can.

CoinFlip’s lawyers have not yet responded to the lawsuit and company spokespeople did not respond to BusinessDen’s requests to discuss it. CoinFlip has 123 ATMs in Colorado, according to its website. Most are in the Denver area, including 17 within city limits.

The Goffs did not answer phone calls or return voicemails and emails last week.


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