In many ways, the cryptocurrency space is like an ocean: vast, mysterious and endlessly alluring. It’s also filling up with garbage.
As more investors dip their toes into crypto investing, cryptocurrency scams are making off with more and more loot. In 2021, scammers made off with $14 billion in cryptocurrency, according to data from blockchain analytics firm Chainalysis. That’s 79 per cent more than in 2020.
Because they come in so many forms, and because scammers are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their efforts, crypto scams can be hard to detect. Here are four common crypto cons to beware of.
1. Account takeovers
Losing control of your account on a crypto exchange is one of the surest ways to kiss your coins goodbye. But it’s difficult for criminals to gain access without your help.
Most account takeovers are the result of phishing or credential stuffing strategies. With phishing, investors are tricked into providing their account information to legitimate-looking websites or accounts.
Credential stuffing is when criminals either steal or purchase already stolen user account information from one organization and use it to access an account at another.
You can help prevent both acts. Being careful with the emails you receive and making sure the links they contain are legit can eliminate phishing attacks. Credential stuffing only works if you’re using the same login details and passwords at multiple websites.
2. Fake ICOs
Like IPOs, initial coin offerings, or ICOs, can generate intense investor interest that encourages individuals to trade their bitcoin or ethereum for new tokens. Considering how high some cryptocurrencies have soared, getting in on the ground level of a new token can feel like a shortcut to easy riches.
But not if the coin being offered is fake.
It’s not difficult for scammers to set up professional looking websites that say all the right things about their new tokens. A 2018 report by New York-based ICO advisory company Satis Group found that almost 80 per cent of ICOs can be classified as scams.
Do your due diligence when approaching an ICO. Read the coin’s white paper; if there isn’t one available, keep your distance. Do your research into the people behind the offering, too. Make sure they have actual, proven experience and that their social media profiles stand up to scrutiny.
3. Pump and dumps
A pump and dump occurs when investors are encouraged by seemingly legitimate sources to load up on a particular token as a way of driving up its value. Once the coin’s price rises a certain amount, the individuals behind the scheme offload their coins and the value plummets, leaving naive investors in possession of worthless tokens.
In July of 2021, proponents of the $SQUID coin were able to rope enough people into believing in the coin’s value that its price rose from a penny to USD $2,800 in minutes. After the sell-off, $SQUID was again worth virtually nothing, but the perpetrators were up about $12 million.
Pump and dumps can be hard for new investors to detect. Scammers sometimes convince influencers to help them promote a coin, and the multiple sources of positive vibes can be convincing. Watch out for influencers who rarely talk about crypto and then suddenly start promoting tokens. They could be angling for a cut of the proceeds.
4. Fake crypto apps
Scammers have also had success convincing investors to download apps that have no connection to a legitimate crypto business or exchange. You can probably guess what happens after someone enters their account details to begin using the app.
In June of 2021, an Australian engineer downloaded the WalletConnect app, a cryptocurrency wallet, from the Google Play Store as a means of managing his investment in a product called Cake Monster.
The app available in the store used the company’s logo and had a 4.5-star rating. But WalletConnect doesn’t make an app. A few days after providing his login information, all of his crypto holdings were transferred out of his wallet.
“This is unfortunately a reality of the cryptocurrency space as a whole and they are not exclusive to WalletConnect, many apps and wallets suffer the same,” WalletConnect co-founder Pedro Gomes told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Always double-check the authenticity of any crypto app or program you intend to use.
A few bad apples?
Even though criminals are making off with more and more cryptocurrency, the actual frequency of crypto fraud might surprise you.
Chainalysis found that transactions involving illicit addresses accounted for only 0.15 per cent of the USD $15.8 trillion in crypto trade volume in 2021 — an all-time low.
“Crime is becoming a smaller and smaller part of the cryptocurrency ecosystem,” the company wrote in its most recent Crypto Crime Report.
But because cryptocurrency remains an opaque industry populated with faceless participants, you still need to keep your guard up.
A representative from Cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase encourages investors to take the following steps to keep their accounts — and crypto assets — safe:
- Use two-step verification to secure your online accounts
- Check if your email address has ever been compromised in a third-party data breach using https://haveibeenpwned.com. If it has, change the passwords you have associated with your account.
- Keep your devices updated and free of malware. Avoid using pirated or cracked versions of commercial software and browser plugins downloaded from unofficial sources.
- Before engaging with anyone claiming to be an employee of a cryptocurrency company, make sure they are mentioned on the company’s official website.
Don’t invest in anything — crypto or otherwise — until you are 100 per cent certain that it’s legitimate. FOMO is real, but you can’t be in such a rush for returns that you wind up running blindly into the next scam.
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