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How to spot a crypto scam

By , Head of Marketing and Strategy at upnup.
Africa , South Africa , 10 Oct 2022
Justin Asher, Head of Marketing and Strategy at upnup.
Justin Asher, Head of Marketing and Strategy at upnup.

Since the emergence of Bitcoin in 2009, cryptocurrency has gained significant traction in popularity over the years, with more and more people investing in the now many variations of digital currencies available such as Ethereum, Tether, Binance, and even Dogecoin.

One of the biggest reasons for crypto’s rise in popularity has been the ideal behind the digital currency as a decentralised form of exchange, essentially presenting a form of monetary value with no ties to, or control by, any singular government. The hope for cryptocurrency was that it would put more power, control, and access to more options into the hands of consumers and lead to a more dynamic marketplace.

Today, one in 10 people are investing in cryptocurrency, with around 65% of those investing in crypto having only started doing so in the past year or two. This is largely because it has become easier and easier over time to trade in digital assets and crypto offers a high possibility of growth over a short period of time. Even investors are shifting their priorities over from traditional assets, such as stocks, to digital assets like cryptocurrency.

However, as its popularity continues to grow, so does the risk around it as malicious actors seek to exploit any vulnerabilities associated with the rising interest in digital currencies for monetary gain. Cryptocurrency scams, as well as organised and financial crimes such as money laundering or crypto laundering, are on the rise across the African continent, particularly in South Africa, while cryptocurrency fraud is growing increasingly sophisticated and persuasive.

In fact, one of the biggest crypto scams in the world was carried out by Mirror Trading International in South Africa in 2020 where hundreds of thousands of victims were robbed of $588 million in Bitcoin through a Ponzi scheme. The US Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) has even charged the company and its CEO with defrauding investors of US$1.7-billion and is the CFTC’s largest fraud scheme case involving Bitcoin.

According to a recent report released by blockchain analysis firm Chainalysis, South Africa was one of the countries listed as receiving the highest volume of cryptocurrency from illicit addresses alongside countries like Russia, China, the United States, and the United Kingdom. As such, it is crucial that South African consumers are able to recognise any red flags that might indicate fraudulent crypto platforms, scams, and scam artists.

What does a crypto scam look like?

Because investing in cryptocurrency is relatively new to the general public or everyday person, scammers often try to take advantage of people’s lack of knowledge to make them buy into a crypto scam.

The most common methods that scammers use to trick unsuspecting victims is by creating a false sense of legitimacy through fake websites or crypto trading platforms that mimic authentic sites and platforms or investment schemes which claim endorsements from celebrities or people with a high level of authority within the finance sector. Other common crypto scams include rug pull scams where investors cannot withdraw funds after buying in, romance scams through relationships which are built online, phishing scams which aim to trick people into providing their personal or legitimate cryptocurrency wallet information, or giveaway scams.

The easiest way to identify a possible scam is that they often offer significantly high returns or rewards within a short amount of time. They also often assure potential buyers that they’re guaranteed these returns and entice buy-in by offering free money in cash or cryptocurrency. As the old adage notes, when something looks too good to be true, it usually is.

What does legitimate crypto buying and investing look like?

As with any other investment, potential investors should perform their due diligence and conduct research into the site, platform and company they’re looking to invest in and make sure that they have legitimate backers and are sold by reputable firms before buying in.

While not in depth, simple online searches with the company’s name alongside “review”, “scam”, or “complaint” should bring up any information that might indicate its trustworthiness or credibility. Take time to research the names of people on social media sites like LinkedIn to make sure that they are really employed at a company or to see whether their profiles are real or not.

There are other small, simple, indicators people can use to ensure they’re investing in something legitimate such as clear and easy to find or understand information around the company, how it works, and the risks involved. It is also less risky to invest in very well-known cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and avoid lesser known coins, especially if they are experiencing a sudden upsurge.

Once you’re sure you’ve found a credible crypto investment platform, it’s best to start off with small investments until you’re more comfortable with the way everything works. As such, micro investing is a particularly advantageous option for new and wary crypto investors as it only involves the injection of small amounts of money, frequently.

Using trusted, and well established, investment platforms will help to reduce the risk of falling into the clutches of the rising number of crypto scams around the world.

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