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Cryptocurrency Scams to Avoid – A Guide for 2021

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Illustration of a thief and a person next to a bitcoin logo to illustrate the topic of cryptocurrency scams.

As the adoption of cryptocurrencies continues to increase, more and more malicious parties are entering the space to scam unwary crypto investors. Perpetrators of cryptocurrency scams will find new ways to compromise your data and steal your assets.

One sure sign of a scam is anyone who pressures you into paying with cryptocurrency. That’s because if you pay in cryptocurrency, there’s almost no way to get that money back. And that – is what the scammers are counting on! 

In this article, we’ll be discussing the different types of cryptocurrency scams, how their schemes are set up, and how you can avoid them.

Investment and business opportunity scams

There are companies and/or organisations out there that will make claim to net you lots of money in a short amount of time if you follow a specific guide from them. While the idea of financial freedom is enticing, when something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

These schemes are often backed by a group or individuals claiming to be a financial gurus, coaches, or mentors.

For these scammers, look out for claims like the ones listed below to help you spot the companies and people to avoid:

  • Scammers guarantee that you’ll make money. If they promise you’ll make a profit, that’s a scam. Even if there’s a celebrity endorsement or testimonials. (Those are easily faked.)
  • Scammers promise big payouts with guaranteed returns. Nobody can guarantee a set return, say, double your money. Much less in a short time.
  • Scammers promise free money. They’ll promise it in cash or cryptocurrency, but free money promises are always fake.
  • Scammers make big claims without details or explanations. Smart business people want to understand how their investment works, and where their money is going. And good investment advisors want to share that information.

Before you invest, check it out thoroughly. Research online for the name of the company and the cryptocurrency name, plus words like “review,” “scam,” or “complaint.” See what others are saying. And read more about other common investment scams.

Related: Read our article on fake crypto gurus (or Furus) – and how you can identify them.

Multi-Level-Marketing (MLM)

For these scammers, you may find them reaching out to you via social media channels or it could just well be someone you actually know!

These scammers typically demonstrate the following traits:

  • Tell you to pay in cryptocurrency for the right to recruit others into a program. If you do, they say, you’ll get recruitment rewards paid in cryptocurrency. The more cryptocurrency you pay, the more money they promise you’ll make. But these are all fake promises and false guarantees.
  • They tell you that they can help you grow your money if you give them the cryptocurrency you’ve bought. Sometimes they asked that you deposit directly into their “holding account”.  But once you log in to the “investment account” they opened, you’ll find that you can’t withdraw your money unless you pay fees or that it is being “locked away”. 

Read more: Everything you need to know about multi-level-marketing (MLM).

Job scams 

These scammers advertise (made-up) job descriptions online where they promise you a job (for a fee). Of course, the fee is typically paid in cryptocurrency and there is a 100% chance they walk away with your crypto and your personal information.

For this particular scam, I have to admit, I was definitely shocked when I first learned about it. Be sure to take note of the warning signs:

  • You are offered a job without having to do an interview, or the interview consists only of a few emails.  A legitimate job offer will often require an interview and a reference check. 
  • The pay offered is higher than usual for the type of work being offered. 
  • The “company” uses a web-based email address to conduct business.  Addresses such as [email protected] or [email protected] are fake.
  • You are asked to send them a crypto fee. 
  • Or that the advertised job involves the person receiving and/or sending money to other places. In the case of crypto, “moving cryptocurrencies on behalf of clients”.

Phone scams

These scammers will contact you via your phone and exhibit the following traits:

  • Pretend to be from a government department (e.g Inland Revenue Department), your bank, or a well-known company, and ask for your personal information. 
  • They then ask you for personal information such as your date of birth or your address. 

The purpose of doing this is similar to a phishing scam where they attempt to gather your financial information.

Computer virus scams

For these types of scam it usually involves your computer. The scammer will:

  • Give you a phone call saying your computer has been infected with a virus.
  • The caller will claim that they can fix your computer as long as you give them you provide them with remote access to your computer.
  • The person may ‘crypto jack’ your computer, this is where they make you download some kind of computer script and they are able to use your computer and internet to mine cryptocurrencies.

Money mule

Money mule scams are usually involved in conjunction with other scams such as investment or romance scams. The scammer will likely persuade you to do one or more of the following acts:

  • Send you a sum of money or cryptocurrencies and tell you to send the rest onto them. 
  • If you question the source of the funds, these scammers may come up with an elaborate story about how they’ve amassed such wealth while trying to cover up the fact that these funds are usually stolen or not legitimate. 
  • They will offer to deposit cryptocurrencies into your wallet and ask that you sell the crypto for them.
  • For your “effort” and “involvement”, they will offer that you keep some portion of the fiat money yourself while transferring the remaining money into their (domestic or international) bank account.

In New Zealand, Money mules may be prosecuted for participating in criminal activities and sentenced to jail time.

Money mules’ own personal information may be stolen by the very criminals they are working for and used for other criminal activities

Learn more: Read our case study on crypto money mules.

Romance scam

Romance scammers use a fake profile account on dating apps or social media sites. And yes, that good looking picture you see online; that’s probably not them.

With this fake profile, these scammers quickly find a target and start to connect with them through direct messaging. And these are some of their typical characteristics:

  • They shower you with compliments and tell you how fond they are of you.
  • They start sharing their plights and troubles with you and how they wish they were with you.
  • They ask you for money to cover some type of immediate or emergency expense.
  • Throughout the online relationship, the scammer will make excuses about why a face-to-face meeting can’t happen. Saying the scammer is in the military and stationed in a different country is a common excuse.
  • The person provides inconsistent details about his/her life.

Romance scammers are very patient and very persistent. We’ve learned that it is not uncommon for victims to send romance scammers money multiple times over a period of time.

Romance scams are a type of psychological scam that can be very devastating for vulnerable victims.

What to do if you think you’re being scammed?

Despite the measures you’ve taken, there may come a time when you’re in a compromised situation.

If you find yourself in this situation – or if you’re ever in doubt, follow the procedures below:

  • Report the incident to your bank’s authorities.
  • File an incident report on NetSafe’s website. NetSafe will get back to you with advice and may also forward your report to a corresponding agency and/or authorities, such as the police or Consumer Protection. Freephone: 0508 638 723 (NZ only)
  • You can also report a cybersecurity issue through CERT NZ.

We are also here to help you If you’re in doubt, feel free to reach out to our helpdesk team and one of our team members will assist.

Further reading: Learn how you can identify DeFi scams.

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