The crypto market is rife with fraud, and Bitcoin scams are very common. While crypto itself may be relatively new in the financial world, many of the more common rackets involving cryptos use old school tricks and common deceit to achieve their goals. These can involve fake exchanges, social engineering scams, and more.
Almost all types of fraud — be they Bitcoin scams or run-of-the-mill phishing attempts — are rooted in a schemer’s ability to gain a victim’s trust. Many crypto investors can be easily swayed by hype and con artists, too, which means they need to remain vigilant when considering investing in Bitcoin or other cryptos. Here are some of the more common Bitcoin and cryptocurrency scams, some things to look out for, and what to do if you fall victim to one of them.
Common Bitcoin Scams to Avoid
1. Fake Cryptocurrency Exchanges
One way to attract potential crypto investors who are eager to get in on the action? Create a cryptocurrency exchange — even if it isn’t real.
Fake crypto exchanges exist, and in some cases, have been used to scam investors out of their money. For fraudsters, it can be as easy as luring crypto investors with the promise of free Bitcoin or another crypto to get them to sign up for the exchange. Then, after making an initial deposit, victims may find that none of it was real, and they’ve been bilked out of their deposit.
As for how to avoid these fake exchanges? Sticking to the known, established crypto exchanges is a start. Think twice before creating an account with a new or unfamiliar exchange, and be sure to do some research to make sure it’s above board before making any moves. Refer to industry sites and newsletters, message boards and forums, and other reputable sources of information to find out more about an exchange’s credentials and reputation.
And it never hurts to remember the age-old adage: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
2. ICO and Fake Cryptos
If you’re familiar with buying IPO stocks, then ICOs should ring a bell. ICO stands for “initial coin offering,” and is similar to an IPO. It’s when a new coin or crypto makes its market debut. That’s sure to attract some attention, right? That’s what fraudsters think, too. And it’s why some people looking to invest in ICOs may fall victim to a fake ICO scam.
An ICO scam might work like this: A fake ICO is teased, asking investors to pony up some cash to get in early. Money is exchanged, but the ICO never occurs, and investors never get their money back.
These types of scams are common. So much so that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) even published a website that simulates them, only to lead you to educational tools when you try to invest, instead of stealing your money.
As with any investment, it is a wise idea to do your research before putting money behind a crypto ICO. Try to find out as much as you can about the company in question — from sources other than itself or the tease that first grabbed your interest. And take advantage of tools like the ones provided by the SEC or groups like FINRA, to help build some background knowledge about what you’re investing in.
3. Social Engineering Scams
Many of the same tactics used in money scams or to con people out of their personal information are used in the crypto sphere, too. That includes things like hacking, social media scams, phishing attempts, and more.
For instance, crypto investors may get an email asking them to update their password or personal information on a crypto exchange — a phishing attempt, which is meant to trick users into providing their credentials. With that information, a fraudster could, potentially, gain access to an investor’s holdings and liquidate them.
The numerous types of social engineering scams mean that investors need to be extra judicious when being asked to reset their passwords or in their interactions in social media.
4. Ponzi Schemes
Ponzi schemes are very similar to pyramid schemes. They are, in essence, a game of hot potato, with investors who’ve been involved for a longer period of time being paid with the proceeds and investments from newer investors. It’s a common scheme in financial circles that has found its way to the crypto world.
The government has gone after Ponzi schemers in the crypto community, and that includes those that use Bitcoin to lure in fresh investors. In fact, government regulators say that they root out and prosecute many Ponzi scheme cases every year, which includes those involving cryptocurrencies.
One typical red flag indicating a Ponzi scheme (or nearly any type of fraud): the promise of investing your money at no risk to you with the guarantee of huge profits.
5. Pump-and-Dump Bitcoin Scams
For investors who are even somewhat familiar with the stock market, “pump-and-dump” should be a familiar term — especially after the Gamestop headlines of early 2021.
A pump-and-dump scheme involves a number of traders or investors buying up an asset (say, Bitcoin for example, or a penny stock) which causes its value to increase. Then, with values high, they sell it all off — or “dump” it. Investors who bought in during the initial run-up are often caught underwater as a result.
Naturally, this same play can be run with cryptocurrencies. Government regulators, such as the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), have warned that pump-and-dump schemes can be particularly effective in the crypto sphere, and warn investors to do their homework before making any investment decisions.
6. Rug Pull Scams
A rug pull is a type of scam that is similar to ICO scams, in that a hyped up crypto project ends up being vaporware — it doesn’t actually exist. It may be common to see a crypto “aped” on social media or in crypto circles by founders or developers in an effort to gin up interest and get investors on board.
Then, the developer or creator simply disappears with investors’ money. In other words, investors have had the rug pulled out from under them. It doesn’t take much for a scammer to gin up hype, especially if they’re something of a showman, so these types of scams are somewhat prevalent in the crypto space.
7. Man-in-the-Middle Scams
A man-in-the-middle scam or attack involves a third party intercepting information between an investor and their exchange, or another investor. The scammer is able to gain access to sensitive information, like passwords or wallet keys, and use them to swipe your assets.
Scammers can pull these scams off by intercepting wireless internet signals and some technical trickery. They’re not the most common scams, but many investors may be at risk nonetheless.
How to Spot a Bitcoin Scam
As mentioned, most Bitcoin scams are age-old tricks used in many other areas of the financial world. As such, there are some common red flags to keep an eye out for.
If a project or crypto is promising massive returns on your investment, your radar should be going off as a possible scam. This is true for other types of scams as well, but in order to generate a large pool of potential schemes, a scammer needs to get people’s attention — by making big promises. If they do, tread carefully.
Scammers Often Request Up-Front Crypto Payments
It’s relatively uncommon that you’d be asked to pay upfront with cryptocurrency for a good or service. As such, this can be a common refrain from scammers. And if they take your money (or Bitcoin) and run, you’ll have little or no recourse. So, if someone asks you to send them Bitcoin with promises of delivering later, use caution.
Appeals to Emotion
A common tactic scammers use is to appeal to someone’s emotions — this is why dating scams are so common. If you find yourself growing close to someone (or believing that you are, anyway) and they start asking you to send them crypto for one reason or another, it could be another sign that you’re being scammed.
Ways to Protect Yourself from Bitcoin Scams
Given that there are a lot of people out there trying to swipe your Bitcoin, here are some ways to protect yourself from Bitcoin scams.
Stick to Known Exchanges
The crypto space is largely unregulated, and as such, there can be a lot of questionable exchanges and platforms out there. While you can create accounts and trade on many of them, it may be best practice to stick to ones that are well-known or generally well-regarded.
There are many bigger exchanges out there that are popular among traders and investors. You can easily look some of them up, too. This isn’t to say that a smaller exchange is a scam, necessarily, but your odds of falling victim are likely higher on a small, unfamiliar exchange than you are on a larger one.
Do Your Homework
It should go without saying, but before you sign up for an exchange or invest in a cryptocurrency of any kind, do some research. There should be supporting materials out there (white papers, etc.) or reviews to take a look at, so do some digging around to see what other people are saying before diving in yourself.
Aside from doing some research, you should always exercise a level of caution when investing. For instance, if you’re getting emails from a crypto founder or someone else in the space, always check the sender address on emails like this — one riddled with typos or oddball fonts is likely to be a fake.
It’s important to be careful on social media, too. Imposter social media accounts may contact you and ask for investments or deposits, only to take your money and run. A good rule of thumb? Go with your gut, and don’t trust social media accounts — it’s all too easy for bots or others to create fakes.
What to Do if You’ve Fallen Victim to a Bitcoin Scam
If you do fall victim to a Bitcoin scam — which is entirely possible, as many people do — there may not be much you can do to get your money back. Again, since crypto is still outside the scope of most government regulators, your assets or money may be as good as gone.
You can, and perhaps should, report it, however. You can report crypto fraud to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the CFTC, the SEC, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), and you can also consider lodging a complaint with the exchange on which you were scammed — is applicable.
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Bitcoin scams, and those involving other cryptocurrencies, are very common. They can take numerous forms, too, such as rug pulls, fake ICOs, and even Ponzi schemes. You can take measures to protect yourself, however, and learn to recognize a scam when you see one. A good rule of thumb is that if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
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