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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.”

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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.

Beware of These 5 Bitcoin Scams

Bitcoin’s meteoric rise in prices in 2020 awakened mainstream interest in the original cryptocurrency.   But the rise in interest has not been without consequences. One of the downsides of new investors entering the market is the increase in the number of scams, frauds, and stories of retail investors who lose their coins to shady ventures. From ICO scandals to wallet theft and fraud, regular consumers can fall prey to crime easily.

It may seem as though it’s the Wild West for investors, but it doesn’t have to be. While there are certainly risks in the market, the opportunities may be irresistible for some. However, being cautious is always a must, and there are clear signs of scams that investors can look for. By avoiding these traps, users can better their chances of success and protect their investments. These are some of the most common scams and how they can be avoided.

Key Takeaways

  • Bitcoin investors can increase their odds for success by identifying common scams, such as Ponzi schemes, fake ICOs, and fraudulent exchanges.
  • One common scam, exposing bitcoin users to theft, is the sale of a hardware wallet with a compromised pre-configured seed phrase, which allows hackers to steal funds.
  • Since bitcoin exchanges are unregulated, fraudulent exchanges can trap investors with the promise of unrealistic prices and heavy discounts on use.
  • Websites featuring fake ICOs instruct users to deposit funds into a compromised wallet through their site, resulting in the theft of funds.

Hardware Wallet Theft

For users who are concerned with security and privacy, a hardware wallet—a physical device that stores their private keys—is an increasingly popular option. Usually, as small as keychain USB drives, these wallets offer an offline way to help crypto investors protect their bitcoin even further. However, there have been reports that some of them have built-in vulnerabilities that open them to hackers that could easily steal all a user’s holdings. 

This is far from the only issue, however. According to Ofir Beigel, the owner of 99Bitcoins.com:

One scam entails selling hardware wallets to users with a ‘pre-configured’ seed phrase hidden under a scratch card. The new user is told that he should scratch the card . and set up the wallet with the compromised seed.

This creates a backdoor that allows hackers to drain funds once a wallet is activated. These scams are becoming more common, but they can easily be avoided by only accepting wallets from trusted sources. 

Exchange Scams

Despite their decentralized nature, most cryptocurrencies are still bought and sold at exchanges. While this makes it easier to find the coins investors desire, there is still no regulatory body overseeing these exchanges in many countries. Thus, many investors have been left penniless when the exchanges they signed up for turn out to be traps. In December of 2020, several South Korean exchanges were exposed, leading to promises of stiffer regulations by the country’s authorities. 

These scams are not hard to spot but can be costly if not avoided. One of the biggest red flags is the promise of unrealistic prices. Exchanges that promise heavy discounts on bitcoin use this strategy to lure in unsuspecting victims.

Additionally, users can check exchanges’ URLs. Web addresses should always begin with HTTPS, a sign that traffic is encrypted. Visiting unsecured websites is a bad idea, but alert investors can avoid losing thousands by looking for the right signs.

Fake ICOs

One of the best results of the cryptocurrency boom has been the rise of the initial coin offering as a way for companies to raise capital. With thousands of new blockchain-based companies entering the market with unique ideas and exciting projects, users can now back their favorite businesses easily. However, this massive explosion of ICO opportunities has inevitably raised the specter of fraud.

There are several ways scammers can separate investors from their bitcoin. One popular method involves creating fake websites that resemble ICOs and instructing users to deposit coins into a compromised wallet. Other times, it’s the ICOs that are at fault.

Centra Tech, for example, a blockchain venture backed by several celebrities, has been sued in the US. The company stands accused of portraying fake team members, misleading investors, and lying about their products.   The best way to avoid these scams is close research that involves picking apart the white paper, reviewing the team behind the venture, key board members, and investors. Before making any investment, it’s vital to learn as much about the company as possible to avoid any unpleasant surprises.

Cloud Mining Schemes

Mining is the only way to extract new bitcoins without buying or exchanging them, but it has become an incredibly resource-intensive activity. Due to the unique way new coins are mined, it takes massive amounts of processing power and electricity, and thus money, to mine a coin. However, many companies now offer regular users the ability to rent some server space to mine coins for a set rate.

Some companies offer “lifetime contracts” that keep costs the same and supposedly offer outstanding returns. However, as the difficulty of mining increases, the same investment will return smaller amounts each time. Moreover, some companies make bold claims regarding their returns without being transparent about the true costs and diminishing returns. Others operate Ponzi schemes that can lead to massive losses. It’s vital to look into opportunities and understand the risks and costs associated with mining before investing.

Multilevel Marketing

Even in the digital spheres, many multilevel marketing schemes have emerged that offer naïve investors excellent “opportunities” for progressively larger sums of bitcoin. MLMs, as they’re known, are predicated on offering quick returns, but involve taking more money for the promise of even higher profits.

One major company that has been repeatedly outed is OneCoin, whose owners were implicated in several other shady operations. The company offered investors massive earnings, as well as luxury goods and perks for paying more. 

However, there is little information on the company outside of its site, and users have left scathing reviews online. It’s important to pay attention to a company’s fine print and ensure that their claims are feasible and real. Avoiding these scams early can protect investors’ wallets.

With the current craze, being vigilant and doing one’s due diligence are a must before investing in bitcoin. The market is also showing signs of maturity, leading to better transparency and clearer rules. Regardless, a smart investor’s first step should always be careful research to ensure their investments are winners.

SCAM WATCH

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

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

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.

Warning signs

  • 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.

Protect yourself

  • 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.

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