Niki Hutchinson, a 24-year-old social media producer from Tennessee, fell victim to a crypto romance scam last year. She was visiting a friend in California when she matched on Hinge with a man named Hao, who said he lived nearby and worked in the clothing business.
The two continued texting on WhatsApp for more than a month after she returned home. She told Hao that she was adopted from China; he told her that he was Chinese, too, and that he hailed from the same province as her birth family. He started calling her “sister” and joking that he was her long-lost brother. (They video-chatted once, she said — but Hao only partly showed his face and hung up quickly.)
“I thought he was shy,” she said.
Ms. Hutchinson had just inherited nearly $300,000 from the sale of her childhood home, after her mother died. Hao suggested that she invest that money in cryptocurrency.
“I want to teach you to invest in cryptocurrency when you are free, bring some changes to your life and bring an extra income to your life,” he texted her, according to a screenshot of the exchange.
Eventually she agreed, sending a small amount of crypto to the wallet address he gave her, which he said was connected to an account on a crypto exchange named ICAC. Then — when the money appeared on ICAC’s website — she sent more.
She couldn’t believe how easy it had been to make money, just by following Hao’s advice. Eventually, when she’d invested her entire savings, she took out a loan and kept investing more.
In December, Ms. Hutchinson started to get suspicious when she tried to withdraw money from her account. The transaction failed, and a customer service agent for ICAC told her that her account would be frozen unless she paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes. Her chat with Hao went silent.
“I was like, oh, God, what have I done?” she said.
Now, Ms. Hutchinson is trying to pull her life back together. She and her father live in their R.V. — one of the few assets they have left — and she is working with the local police in Florida to try to track down her scammer.