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Pay Attention to These 7 Bitcoin Scams
Bitcoin – the possible Pandora’s Box of the currency world – has never been short of controversy. Whether it be aiding the black market or scamming users out of millions, bitcoin is no stranger to the front page.
Still, the jury is out on the legality and usefulness of bitcoin – leaving it in a proverbial grey area. Bitcoin’s price has fluctuated throughout its history, falling and rising, currently hovering near $10,000. Perhaps you’ve found bitcoin while it looks to be on the rebound and find yourself interested in it as an investment.
However, there have been several legitimate bitcoin scams that have become infamous, and you need to know about them – but, what are the top 7 bitcoin scams? And how can you avoid them?
What Is a Bitcoin Scam?
For most cases, it may be pretty obvious what a scam is – but with bitcoin, and cryptocurrency in general, things become murkier. Bitcoin itself is an unregulated form of currency that essentially is a mere number that is only given value because of an agreement. It’s basically like a moneybag with a lock on it – the code of which is given to the recipient of the bitcoin (an analogy drawn by Forbes in 2020).
Bitcoin scams have been famously criminal and public in nature. With no bank as a middleman in exchange, things become more complicated; so hackers and con men have had a heyday.
Top 7 Bitcoin Scams
There have been (and undoubtedly will be) nearly countless bitcoin scams, but these frauds make the list of the top 7 worst bitcoin scams to date. Take note.
1. Malware Scams
Malware has long been the hallmark of many online scams. But with cryptocurrency, it poses an increased threat given the nature of the currency in and of itself.
Recently, a tech support site called Bleeping Computer issued a warning about cryptocurrency-targeting malware in hopes of saving customers from sending cryptocoins via transactions, reported Yahoo Finance.
“This type of malware, called CryptoCurrency Clipboard Hijackers, works by monitoring the Windows clipboard for cryptocurrency addresses, and if one is detected, will swap it out with an address that they control,” wrote Lawrence Abrahams, computer forensics and creator of Bleeping Computer.
The malware, CryptoCurrency Clipboard Hijackers (which reportedly manages 2.3 million bitcoin addresses) switches addresses used to transfer cryptocoin with ones the malware controls – thus transferring the coins to the scammers instead. And, according to Asia Times, even MacOS malware has been connected to malware scams involving cryptocurrency investors using trusted sites like Slack and Discord chats – coined “OSX.Dummy.”
2. Fake Bitcoin Exchanges – BitKRX
Surely one of the easiest ways to scam investors is to pose as an affiliate branch of a respectable and legitimate organization. Well, that’s exactly what scammers in the bitcoin field are doing.
South Korean scam BitKRX presented itself as a place to exchange and trade bitcoin, but was ultimately fraudulent. The fake exchange took on part of the name of the real Korean Exchange (KRX), and scammed people out of their money by posing as a respectable and legitimate cryptocurrency exchange.
BitKRX claimed to be a branch of the KRX, a creation of KOSDAQ, South Korean Futures Exchange, and South Korean Stock Exchange, according to Coin Telegraph.
BitKRX used this faux-affiliation to ensnare people to use their system. The scam was exposed in 2020.
3. Ponzi Scheme – MiningMax
“Ponzi bitcoin scam” has got to be the worst combination of words imaginable for financial gurus. And, the reality is just as bad.
Several organizations have scammed people out of millions with Ponzi schemes using bitcoins, including South Korean website MiningMax. The site, which was not registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, promised to provide investors with daily ROI’s in exchange for an original investment and commission from getting others to invest (basically, a Ponzi scheme). Apparently, the site was asking people to invest $3,200 for daily ROI’s over two years, and a $200 referral commission for every personally recruited investor, reports claim.
MiningMax’s domain was privately registered in mid-2020, and had a binary compensation structure. The fraudulent crypto-currency scam was reported by affiliates, resulting in 14 arrests in Korea in December of 2020.
Korea has long been a leader in technological developments – bitcoin is no exception. However, after recent controversy, it seems as though this is changing.
“But a lot of governments are looking at this very carefully,” Yoo Byung-joon, business administration professor at Seoul National University and co-author of the 2020 research paper “Is Bitcoin a Viable E-Business?: Empirical Analysis of the Digital Currency’s Speculative Nature,” told South China Morning Post in January. “Some are even considering putting their currencies on the blockchain system. The biggest challenge facing bitcoin now is the potential for misuse, but that’s true of any new technology.”
4. Fake Bitcoin Scam – My Big Coin
A classic (but no less dubious) scam involving bitcoin and cryptocurrency is simply, well, fake currency. One such arbiter of this faux bitcoin was My Big Coin. Essentially, the site sold fake bitcoin. Plain and simple.
In early 2020, My Big Coin, a cryptocurrency scam that lured investors into sinking an alleged $6 million, was sued by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, according to a CFTC case filed in late January.
The CFTC case further details that the suit was due to “commodity fraud and misappropriation related to the ongoing solicitation of customers for a virtual currency known as My Big Coin (MBC),” further charging the scam with “misappropriating over $6 million from customers by, among other things, transferring customer funds into personal bank accounts, and using those funds for personal expenses and the purchase of luxury goods.”
Among other things, the site fraudulently claimed that the coin was being actively traded on several platforms, and even mislead investors by claiming it was also partnered with MasterCard, according to the CFTC case.
Those sued included Randall Carter, Mark Gillespie and the My Big Coin Pay, Inc.
5. ICO Scam – Bitcoin Savings and Trust and Centra Tech
Still other scammers have used ICO’s – initial coin offerings – to dupe users out of their money.
Along with the rise in blockchain-backed companies, fake ICOs became popular as a way to back these new companies. However, given the unregulated nature of bitcoin itself, the door has been wide open for fraud.
Most ICO frauds have taken place through getting investors to invest in or through fake ICO websites using faulty wallets, or by posing as real cryptocurrency-based companies.
Notably, $32 million Centra Tech garnered celebrity support (most famously from DJ Khaled), but was exposed for ICO fraud back in April of 2020, according to Fortune. The company was sued for misleading investors and lying about products, among other fraudulent activities.
The famous DJ wrote his support in a caption on Instagram back in 2020.
“I just received my titanium centra debit card. The Centra Card & Centra Wallet app is the ultimate winner in Cryptocurrency debit cards powered by CTR tokens!” Khaled wrote.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission even issued a warning in 2020 about ICO scams and faux investment opportunities, brought on by a slew of celebrities who promoted certain ICOs (like Paris Hilton and Floyd Mayweather Jr. to name a few).
“Any celebrity or other individual who promotes a virtual token or coin that is a security must disclose the nature, scope, and amount of compensation received in exchange for the promotion,” the SEC wrote in an Investor Alert in 2020. “A failure to disclose this information is a violation of the anti-touting provisions of the federal securities laws.”
Another example is Bitcoin Savings and Trust, which was fined $40.7 million in 2020 by the SEC for creating fake investments and using a Ponzi scheme to scam investors. According to Coin Telegraph, Trenton Shavers, the organization’s leader, allegedly scammed investors into giving him 720,000 bitcoins promising a 7% weekly interest on investments – which he then used to pay back old investors and even fill his personal bank accounts.
6. Bitcoin Gold Scam – mybtgwallet.com
Nothing catches the eye of the naïve quite like the promise of gold – bitcoin gold, of course.
That is exactly what mybtgwallet.com did to unsuspecting bitcoin investors.
According to CNN, the bitcoin gold (BTG) wallet duped investors out of $3.2 million in 2020 by promising to allow them to claim their bitcoin gold. The website allegedly used links on a legitimate website (Bitcoin Gold) to get investors to share their private keys or seeds with the scam, as this old screenshot from the website shows.
Before the scam was done, the website managers (slash scammers) was able to get their hands on $107,000 worth of bitcoin gold, $72,000 of litecoin, $30,000 of ethereum, and $3 million of bitcoin, according to CNN.
Bitcoin Gold, the site’s wallet used in the scam, began investigating shortly after, but the site remains controversial. Still, firm released a warning to bitcoin investors.
“It’s worth reminding everyone that it will never be truly safe to enter your private key or mnemonic phrase for a pre-existing wallet into any online website,” Bitcoin Gold wrote. “When you want to sweep new coins from a pre-fork wallet address, best practice is the same as after other forks: Send your old coins to a new wallet first, before you expose the private keys of the original wallet. Following this basic rule of private key management greatly reduces your risk of theft.”
7. Pump and Dump Scam
While this type of scam is certainly not relegated to just bitcoin (thank you for the education, “The Wolf of Wall Street”), a pump-and-dump scam is especially dangerous in the internet space.
The basic idea is that investors hype up (or “pump up”) a certain bitcoin – that is usually an alternative coin that is very cheap but high risk – via investor’s websites, blogs, or even Reddit, according to The Daily Dot. Once the scammers pump up a certain bitcoin enough, skyrocketing its value, they cash out and “dump” their bitcoin onto the naïve investors who bought into the bitcoin thinking it was the next big thing.
Bittrex, a popular bitcoin exchange site, released a set of guidelines to avoid bitcoin pump-and-dump scams.
While “stackin’ penny stocks” may sound like an appealing way to earn an extra buck (thanks to its glamorization by Jordan Belfort), messing in bitcoin scams is nothing to smirk at.
How to Avoid Bitcoin Scams
With the inevitable rise of bitcoin in current and coming years, it is becoming increasingly important to understand and be on the lookout for bitcoin scams that could cost you thousands. As more people become interested in Bitcoin, more people are also likely to try and pull off a scam.
There is no one formula to avoiding being scammed, but reading up on the latest bitcoin red flags, keeping information private, and double checking sources before investing in anything are good standard procedures that may help save you from being duped. Cryptocurrency can be a confusing topic even for the experienced Bitcoin enthusiast, so the more you read up on the world of Bitcoin, the more prepared you can be. After all, knowledge is power.
Investment schemes involve getting you or your business to part with money on the promise of a questionable financial opportunity.
Common types of investment scams
Investment cold calls
A scammer claiming to be a stock broker or portfolio manager calls you and offers financial or investments advice. They will claim what they are offering is low-risk and will provide you with quick and high returns, or encourage you to invest in overseas companies. The scammer’s offer will sound legitimate and they may have resources to back up their claims. They will be persistent, and may keep calling you back.
The scammer may claim that they do not need an Australian Financial Services licence, or that that they are approved by a real government regulator or affiliated with a genuine company.
The investments offered in these type of cold calls are usually share, mortgage, or real estate high-return schemes, options trading or foreign currency trading. The scammer is operating from overseas, and will not have an Australian Financial Services licence.
Share promotions and hot tips
The scammer encourages you to buy shares in a company that they predict is about to increase in value. You may be contacted by email or the message will be posted in a forum. The message will seem like an inside tip and stress that you need to act quickly. The scammer is trying to boost the price of stock so they can sell shares they have already bought, and make a huge profit. The share value will then go down dramatically.
If you invest you will be left with large losses or shares that are virtually worthless.
Investment seminars are promoted by promising motivational speakers, investment experts, or self-made millionaires who will give you expert advice on investing. They are designed to convince you into following high risk investment strategies such as borrowing large sums of money to buy property, or investments that involve lending money on a no security basis or other risky terms.
Promoters make money by charging you an attendance fee, selling overpriced reports or books, and by selling investments and property without letting you get independent advice. The investments on offer are generally overvalued and you may end up having to pay fees and commissions that the promoters did not tell you about. High pressure sales tactics or false and misleading claims are often used to pressure you into investing, such as guaranteed rent or discounts for buying off the plan.
If you invest there is a high chance you will lose money.
Visit ASIC’s MoneySmart for more information about investment seminar scams.
Superannuation scams offer to give you early access to your super fund, often through a self-managed super fund or for a fee. The offer may come from a financial adviser, or a scammer posing as one. The scammer may ask you to agree to a story to ensure the early release of your money and then, acting as your financial adviser, they will deceive your superannuation company into paying out your super benefits directly to them. Once they have your money, the scammer may take large ‘fees’ out of the released fund or leave you with nothing at all.
You cannot legally access the preserved part of your super until you are between 55 and 60, depending what year you were born. There are certain exceptions such as severe financial hardship or compassionate grounds – but anyone who otherwise offers early access to your super is acting illegally.
Visit ASIC’s MoneySmart for more information about how super works.
- You receive a call, or repeated calls, from someone offering unsolicited advice on investments. They may try to keep you on the phone for a long time, or try and transfer you to a more senior person. You are told that you need to act quickly and invest or you will miss out.
- You receive an email from a stranger offering advice on the share price of a particular company. It may not be addressed to you personally, and may even give the impression it was sent to you by mistake.
- An advertisement or seminar makes claims such as ‘risk-free investment’, ‘be a millionaire in three years’, or ‘get-rich quick’.
- You are invited to attend a free seminar, but there are high fees to attend any further sessions. The scammer, posing as the promoter, may offer you a loan to cover both the cost of your attendance at the additional seminars and investments.
- You see an advertisement promising a quick and easy way to ‘unlock’ your superannuation early.
- Do not give your details to an unsolicited caller or reply to emails offering financial advice or investment opportunities – just hang up or delete the email.
- Be suspicious of investment opportunities that promise a high return with little or no risk.
- Check if a financial advisor is registered via the ASIC website. Any business or person that offers or advises you about financial products must be an Australian Financial Services (AFS) licence holder.
- Check ASIC’s list of companies you should not deal with. If the company that called you is on the list – do not deal with them.
- Do not let anyone pressure you into making decisions about your money or investments and never commit to any investment at a seminar – always get independent legal or financial advice.
- Do not respond to emails from strangers offering predictions on shares, investment tips, or investment advice.
- If you feel an offer to buy shares might be legitimate, always check the company’s listing on the stock exchange for its current value and recent shares performance. Some offers to buy your shares may be well below market value.
- Never commit to any investment at a seminar – always take time to consider the opportunity and seek independent financial advice.
- If you are under 55, watch out for offers promoting easy access to your preserved superannuation benefits. If you illegally access your super early, you may face penalties under taxation law.
Have you been scammed?
If you think you have provided your account details to a scammer, contact your bank or financial institution immediately.
We encourage you to report scams to the ACCC via the report a scam page. This helps us to warn people about current scams, monitor trends and disrupt scams where possible. Please include details of the scam contact you received, for example, email or screenshot.
Scams that relate to financial services can also be reported to ASIC.
Spread the word to your friends and family to protect them.
Protect yourself from investment scams
Page reading time: 6 minutes
Be suspicious of anyone that offers you easy money. Scammers are skilled at convincing you that the investment is real, the returns are high and the risks are low. But there’s always a catch.
How to spot an investment scam
There are three main types of investment scams:
- The investment offer is completely fake.
- The investment exists, but the money you give the scammer doesn’t go towards that investment.
- The scammer says they represent a well-known investment company – but they’re lying.
In any case, the money you ‘invest’ goes straight into the scammer’s bank account and not towards any real investment.
How scammers get you to invest
To get you to give them your money, a scammer may tell you they’re offering:
- high and quick returns or sometimes tax-free benefits
- share, mortgage, real estate or virtual currency investments, ‘high return’ schemes, option trading or foreign currency trading
- an opportunity with no risk or low risk, because you will:
- be able to sell anytime
- get a refund for non-performance
- have insured or ‘guaranteed’ transactions
- be able to swap one investment for another
- inside information, the opportunity to invest before a public float or discounts for early bird investors
Warning signs of investment scams
The investment offer may be a scam if the person:
- does not have an Australian financial services (AFS) licence or says they don’t need one
- rings you repeatedly, keeps you on the phone, or emails you a lot
- says you need to make a quick decision or you’ll miss out on the deal
- offers you professional-looking prospectuses, brochures, share certificates or receipts, but their prospectus isn’t registered with ASIC
If you spot any of these signs, hang up the phone or delete the email. If you manage to record any of the scammer’s details, report them to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).
Tactics used by investment scammers
Some of the common tactics scammers use to trick you into investing:
COVID-19 phishing scams
A scammer may try to steal your information using ‘investment opportunities’ to make your money back from sharemarket losses. The scammer may pretend to be someone you know, like your fund manager or your financial adviser. They may contact you by email, phone or text, or on social media.
Signs of a phishing scam:
- The email address doesn’t match the company name (also look for hotmail, gmail or outlook in the address).
- There are spelling mistakes or the information doesn’t make sense.
- You’re asked to update or confirm your personal details.
- You’re asked for immediate payment.
Don’t click on any links. Delete the email or message straight away.
Directing you to a fake website
Scammers use sophisticated websites and issue fake online press releases that make false claims of outstanding corporate performance. They may provide some victims with logins to view fake investment balances and growing returns.
Stopping you pulling out of the deal
If you try to pull out of the deal, scammers may try to:
- swap your current investment for another one
- convince you that your investment will increase in value soon
Threatening legal action
Scammers may threaten you with prosecution or hefty fees to keep you from pulling out of the deal.
Using social media to approach you or your friends
Scammers may message you, advertise or send you a ‘friend’ request.
They may pose as someone you know or are connected to. If you ‘friend’ them they get access to your profile information. They can also send you offers to invest and make quick money.
Scammers may use your information to impersonate you. They may create a fake social media account to approach people in your friends list. See identity theft for more information.
Artificially inflating the share price
Scammers buy shares in a small company at a low price. They then send out false tips about the company having great prospects. As more people invest, the share price rises. The scammers sell their shares at the peak of the price rise, then the share price falls and the shareholders are left holding them at the reduced value.
Passing your call along the line
Investment scammers use a team of less experienced staff to make the initial call. The junior staff follow a tight script to check your interest. If you take the bait, they hand you over to a more senior person, called a ‘closer’. Closers are extremely skilful sales agents and their job is to make you feel compelled to close the deal and send your money.
Calling or emailing you persistently
Investment scammers may call or email you persistenly. They may keep you on a phone call for a long time, insisting you’ll miss out if you don’t take up their offer right away. They will not take no for an answer and will ask you about your worries to reassure you. As long as they can keep you talking or emailing, you haven’t really said no.
Operating from overseas
Many investment scammers operate from overseas or offer foreign investments, because their activities are illegal in Australia. Overseas scammers target Australians because ASIC does not have international jurisdiction to prosecute them.
How to check an investment is real
Simple research to make sure an investment is legitimate could save you from losing money to a scam.
1. Ask questions and request information
Check the legitimacy of the person offering the investment by asking them:
- What is your name and what company do you represent?
- Who owns your company?
- Does your company have an AFS licence and what is the licence number?
- What is your address?
- Is your investing prospectus registered with ASIC?
If they try to avoid answering these questions, their investment offer is probably a scam. Hang up the phone, do not respond to the email. Stop dealing with the person or delete and block them if it’s through social media.
But, even if they can answer these questions, it doesn’t always mean the investment is legitimate.
2. Do your own research on the company
Don’t rely only on the information the person gives you to make your decision. Don’t be pressured to make a quick decision you could regret later.
Take these steps to do your own research — check:
- ASIC’s OFFERlist database — See if the company has lodged a prospectus with ASIC.
- Publicly listed phone directories — Check whether the address and contact details are correct.
- ASIC Connect’s professional register search — Check the company has an AFS licence or Australian credit licence.
- Our list of companies you should not deal with — Make sure the company name is not on our list.
- International Organization of Securities Commission’s (IOSCO) investor alerts — Make sure the company is not named.
- Our list of fake regulators and exchanges — Check if the investment offer mentions one.
If you invest through overseas companies and something goes wrong, you won’t be able to get help. A lower risk option is to invest overseas through licensed companies based in Australia.
Protect yourself from investment scams
Make sure you don’t fall victim to an investment scam:
- Always get independent financial advice before you invest
- Do your own checks on any investment opportunity to make sure it’s real.
- Remember the common signs and tactics so you can spot an investment scam.
- Don’t accept a message or friend request on social media from someone you don’t know.
- Make sure your privacy settings are up to date on your social media accounts.
- Be wary of random or unexpected contact, particularly if you have replied to something on a website or social media platform.
If you think you have been the victim of an investment scam, you should:
- Report it to ASIC or your report it to your local police.
- Stop sending money to the company.
- Be wary of falling for a secondary scam or offers to recover your money.
BitSigma Review: is Bitsigma.io a Scam or Should I Invest?
An official website of the United States government
Here’s how you know
The .gov means it’s official.
Federal government websites often end in .gov or .mil. Before sharing sensitive information, make sure you’re on a federal government site.
The site is secure.
The https:// ensures that you are connecting to the official website and that any information you provide is encrypted and transmitted securely.
Ask questions. Fraudsters are counting on you not to investigate before you invest. Fend them off by doing your own digging. It’s not enough to ask for more information or for references – fraudsters have no incentive to set you straight. Take the time to do your own independent research. For more about information see Ask Questions.
Research before you invest. Unsolicited emails, message board postings, and company news releases should never be used as the sole basis for your investment decisions. Understand a company’s business and its products or services before investing. Look for the company’s financial statements on the SEC’s EDGAR filing system. You can also check out many investments by searching EDGAR.
Know the salesperson. Spend some time checking out the person touting the investment before you invest – even if you already know the person socially. Always find out whether the securities salespeople who contact you are licensed to sell securities in your state and whether they or their firms have had run-ins with regulators or other investors. You can check out the disciplinary history of brokers and advisers for free using the SEC’s and FINRA’s online databases. Your state securities regulator may have additional information.
Be wary of unsolicited offers.Be especially careful if you receive an unsolicited pitch to invest in a company, or see it praised online, but can’t find current financial information about it from independent sources. It could be a “pump and dump” scheme. Be wary if someone recommends foreign or “off-shore” investments. If something goes wrong, it’s harder to find out what happened and to locate money sent abroad.
Protect yourself online. Online and social marketing sites offer a wealth of opportunity for fraudsters. For tips on how to protect yourself online see Protect Your Social Media Accounts.
Know what to look for. Make yourself knowledgeable about different types of fraud and red flags that may signal investment fraud.
Red flags for fraud and common persuasion tactics
How do successful, financially intelligent people fall prey to investment fraud? Researchers have found that investment fraudsters hit their targets with an array of persuasion techniques that are tailored to the victim’s psychological profile. Here are red flags to look for:
If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Watch for “phantom riches.” Compare promised yields with current returns on well-know stock indexes. Any investment opportunity that claims you’ll receive substantially more could be highly risky – and that means you might lose money. Be careful of claims that an investment will make “incredible gains,” is a “breakout stock pick” or has “huge upside and almost no risk!” Claims like these are hallmarks of extreme risk or outright fraud.
“Guaranteed returns” aren’t. Every investment carries some degree of risk, which is reflected in the rate of return you can expect to receive. If your money is perfectly safe, you’ll most likely get a low return. High returns entail high risks, possibly including a total loss on the investments. Most fraudsters spend a lot of time trying to convince investors that extremely high returns are “guaranteed” or “can’t miss.” They try to plant an image in your head of what your life will be like when you are rich. Don’t believe it.
Beware the “halo” effect. Investors can be blinded by a “halo” effect when a con artist comes across as likeable or trustworthy. Credibility can be faked. Check out actual qualifications.
“Everyone is buying it.” Watch out for pitches that stress how “everyone is investing in this, so you should, too.” Think about whether you are interested in the product. If a sales presentation focuses on how many others have bought the product, this could be a red flag.
Pressure to send money RIGHT NOW. Scam artists often tell their victims that this is a once-in-a-lifetime offer and it will be gone tomorrow. But resist the pressure to invest quickly and take the time you need to investigate before sending money.
Reciprocity. Fraudsters often try to lure investors through free investment seminars, figuring if they do a small favor for you, such as supplying a free lunch, you will do a big favor for them and invest in their product. There is never a reason to make a quick decision on an investment. If you attend a free lunch, take the material home and research both the investment and the individual selling it before you invest. Always make sure the product is right for you and that you understand what you are buying and all the associated fees.
Where can I go for help?
If you have a question or concern about an investment, or you think you have encountered one of these frauds, please contact the SEC, FINRA, or your state securities regulator to report the fraud and to get assistance.
U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
Office of Investor Education and Advocacy
100 F Street, NE
Washington, DC 20549-0213
Telephone: (800) 732-0330
Fax: (202) 772-9295
Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA)
FINRA Complaints and Tips
9509 Key West Avenue
Rockville, MD 20850
Telephone: (301) 590-6500
Fax: (866) 397-3290
North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA)
750 First Street NE
Washington, DC 20002
Telephone: (202) 737-0900
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