Nadeem Anjarwalla , Director for Binance East and West Africa
As long as new technology is introduced into the world, fraudsters will continue to search for a place to thrive. Unfortunately, Bitcoin gives cryptocurrency scammers an interesting opportunity as it’s a borderless digital currency.
Bitcoin’s decentralized nature allows you to be in full control of your investments. However, it also makes it harder to delineate a proper regulatory and law enforcement framework. If scammers manage to trick you into making mistakes while using Bitcoin, they may end up stealing your BTC, and there is virtually nothing you can do to recover your crypto.
That said, it’s crucial to understand how scammers work and learn how to identify potential red flags. There are plenty of Bitcoin scams to look out for, but some are more common than others. For that reason, we’re going to take a look at eight common Bitcoin scams and how you can avoid them.
Common Bitcoin scams (and how to avoid them):
Blackmail is a well-known method used by scammers to threaten others with the release of sensitive information unless they’re reimbursed somehow. This reimbursement usually comes in the form of cryptocurrency, more notably Bitcoin.
Blackmail works by scammers either finding or fabricating sensitive information about you and leveraging that information to force you into a position to send them Bitcoin or other forms of money.
The best way to avoid scammers blackmailing you out of your bitcoins is to be careful with selecting your login credentials, which sites you visit online, and who you give your information to. It’s also wise to use two-factor authentication whenever possible. If the information they blackmail you with is false and you know it, you may be in the clear.
As the name suggests, fake exchanges are fraudulent copies of legitimate crypto exchanges. Typically, these scams will be presented as mobile apps, but you may also find them as desktop applications or fake websites. You have to be careful because some fake exchanges are very similar to the original ones. They may look legitimate at first glance, but their goal is to steal your money.
Typically, these fake exchanges will attract crypto traders and investors by offering free cryptocurrencies, competitive prices, low exchange fees, and even gifts.
To avoid being scammed on a fake exchange, you should bookmark the real URL and always double-check it before logging in. You can also use Binance Verify to check the legitimacy of URLs, Telegram groups, Twitter accounts, and more.
When it comes to mobile apps, make sure to verify the developer information, the number of downloads, reviews, and comments. Check out Common Scams on Mobile Devices for more details.
Fake giveaways are used to scam you out of your cryptocurrencies by offering something for free in exchange for a small deposit. Typically, scammers will ask you to send funds to a Bitcoin address first so you can receive more bitcoins in return (e.g., “send 0.1 BTC to receive 0.5 BTC”). But if you make these Bitcoin transactions, you won’t receive anything and will never see your funds again.
There are many variants of fake giveaway scams. Instead of BTC, some scams will ask for other cryptocurrencies, like ETH, BNB, XRP, and many more. In some cases, they may ask for your private keys or other sensitive information.
Fake giveaways are most commonly found on Twitter and other social media platforms, where scammers latch onto popular tweets, viral news, or announcements (like a protocol upgrade or an upcoming ICO).
The best way to avoid fake giveaway scams is to never participate in any kind of giveaway where you’re required to send something of value first. Legitimate giveaways will never ask for funds.
Social media phishing
Social media phishing is a common Bitcoin scam that, like fake giveaways, you’ll most likely find on social media. Scammers will create an account that looks like someone with a high level of authority in the crypto space (this is also known as impersonation). Next, they will offer fake giveaways via tweets or direct chat messages.
The best way to avoid being scammed through social media phishing is to double-check that the person is actually who they say they are. There are usually indicators of this on certain social media platforms, like blue checkmarks on Twitter and Facebook.
Copy-and-paste malware is a very sneaky way for scammers to steal your funds. This type of malware hijacks your clipboard data and, if you aren’t careful, you will send money directly to scammers.
Let’s say you want to send a BTC payment to your friend Bob. As usual, he sends you his Bitcoin address so you can copy and paste it into your Bitcoin wallet. However, if your device is infected with copy-and-paste malware, the scammer’s address will automatically replace Bob’s address at the moment you paste it. This means that as soon as your Bitcoin transaction is sent and confirmed, your BTC payment will be in the scammer’s hand and Bob will receive nothing.
To avoid this type of scam, you need to be very careful with your computer security. Be wary of suspicious messages or emails that may contain infected attachments or dangerous links. Pay attention to the websites you browse and to the software you install on your devices. You should also consider installing an antivirus and scanning for threats regularly. It’s also important to keep your device’s operating system (OS) up to date.
There are several types of phishing. One of the most common involves the use of phishing emails that try to trick you into downloading an infected file or clicking a link that leads you to a malicious website that appears to be legitimate. These emails are particularly dangerous when they imitate a product or service you use frequently.
Usually, scammers will include a message asking you to take urgent action to secure your account or funds. They might ask you to update your account information, reset your password, or upload documents. In most cases, their goal is to collect your login credentials to try and hack your account.
The first step to avoiding phishing email scams is to check if the emails are coming from the original source. If in doubt, you could also contact the company directly to confirm the email you received was from them. Second, you can hover over the email links (without clicking) to check whether the URLs have misspellings, unusual characters, or other irregularities.
Even if you can’t find red flags, you should avoid clicking the links. If you need to access your account, you should do it through other means, like typing the URL manually or using bookmarks.
Ponzi and pyramid schemes
Ponzi and pyramid schemes are two of the oldest financial scams in history. A Ponzi scheme is an investment strategy that pays returns to older investors with new investor money. When the scammer can no longer bring in new investors, the money stops flowing. OneCoin was a good example of a crypto Ponzi scheme.
A pyramid scheme is a business model that pays members based on how many new members they enroll. When no new members can be enrolled, the money flow stops.
The best way to steer clear of either of these schemes is to do your research on the cryptocurrencies you buy – be it an altcoin or Bitcoin. If the value of a cryptocurrency or Bitcoin fund is purely dependent on new investors or members joining in, you’ve likely found yourself in a Ponzi or pyramid scheme.
Ransomware is a type of malware that either locks victims’ mobile or computer devices or prevents them from accessing valuable data – unless a ransom is paid (usually in BTC). These attacks can be particularly destructive when aimed at hospitals, airports, and government agencies.
Typically, the ransomware will block access to important files or databases and threaten to delete them if the payment is not received before the deadline. But unfortunately, there is no guarantee that the attackers will honor their promise.
There are some things you can do to protect yourself against ransomware attacks:
- Install an antivirus and keep your operating system and applications updated.
- Avoid clicking ads and suspicious links.
- Be wary of email attachments. You should be extra careful with files that end with .exe, .vbs, or .scr.
- Backup your files regularly so you can restore them if you get infected.
- You can find useful ransomware prevention advice and free recovery tools at NoMoreRansom.org.
There are plenty of Bitcoin scams to watch out for. However, knowing how these scams work is an important first step toward avoiding them completely. If you can avoid the most common Bitcoin scams, you’ll be able to keep your crypto holdings safe and sound.