Everything seemed legitimate to Robert Nevárez when the man who answered his Facebook Marketplace ad about an expensive watch for sale showed up for a meeting.
The two men met in public at a Wells Fargo bank in the Orange County community of Brea, California — an area that was well-monitored with security cameras. Nevárez thought he had found a buyer for his $17,000 limited-edition Hublot watch.
A man who identified himself as the brother of the potential buyer arrived wearing some pricey Converse Comme des Garçons shoes and driving a high-end Mercedes-Benz.
"He showed up in a really nice car, an S Class Mercedes, said he was from Beverly Hills, so I assumed he had money since he was here for a long time and had money to spend on a very expensive watch," said Nevárez.
The shine soon wore off the sale.
The man showed Nevárez what appeared to be the necessary Bitcoin funds on an app. The men made the exchange inside a nearby Starbucks.
Five minutes later on his way home, Nevárez found out he had just been taken by an apparent swindle using the decentralized digital currency.
U.S. & World
"The money disappeared, so I immediately messaged, tried to call," Nevárez said. "I said, 'Hey, the money's not showing up.' Nothing. No text message, no phone call."
Police liken the scenario to a modern-day check kiting scheme, a swindle in which someone writes a check and the seller sees the deposit, but the "buyer" doesn't actually have money to cover it. By the time it clears the bank, the money is gone.
"People have a lot of time out there," said Nevárez. "If they’re going to cheat you, they're going to find a way."
Police said the cryptocurrency was manipulated to be used twice, even though it only exists once.
"He did everything he knew was right," said Brea Police investigator Aja Tokugawa. "Not knowing this is how Bitcoin operates, it takes a little more time to verify."
Security camera images captured the man who showed up for the sale. He can be seen wearing the distinctive high-top sneakers.
"We know the pictures aren’t great, but someone forgot to tell this guy that he should at least try to blend in when committing a crime," Brea Police said in a tweet. "If you recognize Mr. Flashy Shoes, contact Investigator Tokugawa."
Anyone with information about the case was asked to call at 714-671-3675 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.