Scammer Defrauds High-Stakes Poker Players in “Man in the Middle” Scheme

  • Two poker players agreed to exchange poker funds for Bitcoin
  • The scammer posed as each of them and facilitated the deal
  • “Grazvydas” sent $20K to James Romero, but Romero sent $20 in Bitcoin to the scammer
  • Romero eventually paid $10K to Grazvydas to split the losses
Hooded, faceless, cyber thief
A scammer used a “man in the middle” scheme to pose as two high-stakes poker players and intercept a $20,000 Bitcoin-for-poker funds exchange between them. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Players looking to exchange poker funds

Two high-stakes online poker pros were unsuspecting victims and pawns in a scam, leaving one of them $20,000 lighter. The play was a classic example of the “man in the middle” scheme in which the two parties were dealing with the fraudster but thought they were doing business with each other.

The player “Grazvydas” explained the situation on the Two Plus Two poker forum, saying that he posted in a Skype group that he wanted to exchange at least $20,000 from his PokerStars and/or Americas Cardroom account for money on Natural8, a site on the GGNetwork. Another person in the group, James Romero, posted that he had $60,000 in his Luxon e-wallet and wanted to trade for at least $5,000 in Bitcoin.

While all of the above is a lot of money, such exchanges are common in the online poker world. Depending on where one lives and poker site cashout fees, it can be difficult or expensive to shift money between poker rooms. Trading funds on one poker site for funds on another is a way to expedite the process and make two players happy.

Even though the two players’ needs did not match up, in the end Grazvydas had lost $20,000 from his Americas Cardroom account in exchange for nothing. Romero had successfully traded $20,000 in Bitcoin for $20,000 on Americas Cardroom.

Scammer posed as each player

What happened was that a third party, the scammer, had seen their posts in the Skype chat and created fake profiles, impersonating each of them. The scammer used screennames close enough to theirs to make it look legitimate at first glance, without further investigation.

in reality, they were being played by the scammer

The players ended up agreeing to a trade: Grazvydas would send Romero $20,000 on Americas Cardroom in exchange for $20,000 worth of Bitcoin. Of course, they only thought they were making a deal with each other. In reality, they were being played by the scammer.

The scammer told Grazyvdas Romero’s real poker account to send the money to, as he had received the information from Romero himself (again, Romero thought the fraudster was Grazvydas and Grazvydas thought the fraudster was Romero). Grazvydas transferred $20,000 Romero’s Americas Cardroom account. Once he saw the money was sent, Romero transferred the scammer $20,000 in Bitcoin, assuming he was sending it to Grazvydas to complete the deal.

That wasn’t the case. So, while the exchange looked great from Romero’s end – he traded Bitcoin for poker money – Grazvydas was left holding the bag. He never received anything, since it was intercepted by the scammer. Grazvydas was out $20,000.

Scammer gets away scot-free

Once he realized he had been duped, Grazvydas posted about it in the Skype group and later on Two Plus Two. The topic has sparked a great amount of debate over the last few days as to who shoulders more of the responsibility, Grazvydas or Romero.

he should have verified the identity of the person with whom he was dealing

While members of the poker community took every different side that could be taken in the situation, some gave Romero flack for the way he handled things. Romero was unsympathetic to Grazvydas, telling him that he should have verified the identity of the person with whom he was dealing. He effectively said “too bad”, even though he himself didn’t check to be sure he was speaking with the right person.

The problem Grazvydas faced was that he was the first to transfer money. Because of the setup of the man in the middle scam, he was the big loser in the scenario. Romero shrugged off any blame, despite sending $20,000 in bitcoin to an unverified stranger.

In the end, Romero agreed to reimburse Grazvydas $10,000, sharing the financial loss.