SUMMERVILLE, S.C. (WCBD) — A Summerville man said he is now out $20,000 after he thought he was investing money into cryptocurrency.

Experts said this is a new avenue for scammers, and money lost from crypto scams tripled from 2020 to 2021.

The scam began like so many others after George Harrell was approached online by someone who pretended to be his friend.

They were able to get his trust, and eventually his money. “I was actually, believe it or not, considering putting more money in,” said Harrell.

Harrell said it all started from a Facebook group. He received a message from someone who was interested in stock market trading. They began talking and even formed a friendship for over a year and a half.

“Our conversations had went from crypto to just polite conversation,” he said.

Harrell then trusted his new friend when she told him to invest his money with a company out of Australia.

“So I put like $2,500 bucks in,” he said. “Woke up the next morning, and I had made $50 on my investment — and I was like that’s pretty cool.”

Then Harrell was convinced to invest more.

“Ultimately I sent them $20,000 worth of bitcoin,” he said.

Bailey Parker with the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs said being pressured to invest more can be a red flag, especially when dealing with cryptocurrency.

“Investment scams, in particular, will prey on people who they have established relationships with,” said Parker.

Harrell continued to trust the company because they had allowed him to withdraw some of his money.

However, when he tried to withdraw $5,000 it was denied. Harrell said the company told him to get the money back he had to give something in return.

“[They said] ‘if you want to get your money, bring us more people. If you bring us more people then you can get a percentage of what they’re investing — but you’re not getting your money.’ — that’s when I was like it’s official I am being scammed,” Harrell said.

Parker said Harrell’s story is an example of why research as a consumer is so important.

“This is not uncommon — I’m not shocked that they asked him for money because of course they are — why wouldn’t they?” she said. “They are now holding your money ransom in theory.”

Moving forward, George said he won’t be so trusting.

“I took the anger and all the energy I had in trying to figure out who these people were and turned that into learning how to do my own trading,” said Harrell. “I’ve spent time on the computer eight to 10 hours a day reading, researching.”

The company also promised Harrell a 10 to 15% return on his investment, which Parker said is another red flag.

Her biggest advice for consumers is if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.