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Is Crypto a Scam?

Is Crypto a Scam: Recognizing and Preventing Crypto Frauds

Posted on November 6, 2023
Writer: James Miller

Is cryptocurrency a goldmine or a minefield? As digital currencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum continue to revolutionize the financial world, it’s natural to wonder about their legitimacy. The question on many minds is, “Is crypto a scam?”

Though cryptocurrencies are not inherently fraudulent, the digital landscape in which they operate can be rife with scams, such as phony ICOs and Ponzi schemes. Our blog aims to equip you with the knowledge and insights necessary to safely navigate the exhilarating yet perilous realm of cryptocurrencies.

Join us as we dive into the crypto world, demystifying the risks and rewards and providing you with the tools to safeguard your hard-earned money from unscrupulous actors in this dynamic digital environment.


Understanding Cryptocurrency Scams

While cryptocurrency is not inherently a scam, its anonymity and decentralized nature attract nefarious actors. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission revealed that over $1 billion was stolen through crypto scams between January 2021 and June 2022.

Crypto investor holding Bitcoin and cellphone with stock market on it

Cryptocurrencies rely on blockchain technology, a decentralized and irreversible digital ledger system, which makes it difficult to recover funds once transactions are made.

Decentralized finance (DeFi) removes third parties like banks and governments from financial transactions, but this comes with risks. Unlike the U.S. Dollar, cryptocurrency is a digital currency with no centralized control, making it more volatile and unpredictable.

Scammers often exploit social media platforms to target potential victims, offering cheap Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies at enticing discounts. These ads might promise huge savings but often peddle fake crypto products. Therefore, thoroughly investigate any advertised deals or celebrity endorsements before investing in cryptocurrencies.

So, is crypto a scam? Not entirely, but it does harbor certain risks. In the following section, we’ll explore common crypto scams to help you stay vigilant and protect your investments.

Pump and Dump Schemes

Pump-and-dump crypto scams are a type of market manipulation and financial fraud that involves artificially inflating a cryptocurrency price through false hype. Self-organized groups of individuals engineer these scams to sell crypto for profit, leaving others with losses.

Specifically, the mentioned group members purchase a stock, such as a penny stock. Then, they spread false information about the company to raise the demand for the stock and increase the price.

After raising the price, the group members sell their shares to gain profits. As a result, the prices drop drastically. Most investors, who purchased the shares on the rise, remain with plummeting or worthless shares they may be unable to liquidate immediately.

Consider the case when Elon Musk dressed his puppy Floki in a New Year’s costume. Crypto enthusiasts mistakenly associated this with Santa Floki tokens, and the cryptocurrency worth $0.000000012935 surged by over 18,840% in roughly 48 hours, only to collapse just as quickly.

Ponzi Schemes

Participants in Ponzi schemes are enticed to invest their crypto assets with the promise of high returns.

The scheme generates returns for early investors using the new contributions made by later investors. Over time, new investments slow down, causing the scheme to collapse and leaving later investors with significant losses.

Take the example of two California men running JSG Capital Investments, who promised high returns through investments in “hot” pre-IPO stocks. In reality, they didn’t make any investments at all.

Phishing

Phishing scams involve criminals posing as legitimate cryptocurrency companies or exchanges to trick users into sharing their private keys, passwords, or other sensitive information.

Bitcoin on a fishing line to symbolize phishing scams

Specifically, scammers may email individuals to lure them into entering their private key information on a specially created website. Once they receive the sensitive data, they steal the victims’ cryptocurrency from their wallets.

Some warning signs include strange subject lines like “Warning” or “Your funds have…” and emails from unfamiliar senders. As a rule, experts advise people to avoid opening unknown emails.

For instance, the 3D virtual world platform Decentraland fell victim to a phishing attack that targeted MailChimp, leading to hackers obtaining hundreds of email accounts.

Fake Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs)

A fake ICO in crypto is a fraudulent fundraising method where scammers create a fake project, often with an elaborate whitepaper, website, and marketing campaign to lure investors.

They convince investors to purchase the project’s tokens with the promise of future growth and utility. Once the ICO has raised significant funds, the scammers disappear, leaving investors with worthless tokens.

One of the biggest ICO scams dates back to 2018 when a company with two projects, Ifan and Pincoin, turned out to be a marketing scam. The company owners convinced 32,000 people to “invest” and disappeared with over $660 million.

Bitcoin Scams

You might be wondering if Bitcoin is a scam. While Bitcoin is a legitimate cryptocurrency, it’s essential to know how to spot a Bitcoin scammer since various frauds involve fake exchanges, Ponzi schemes, phishing attacks, and giveaway scams that deceive users into sending their Bitcoin to fraudsters who then disappear with the funds.

For example, Bitcoin investment schemes involve scammers posing as experienced “investment managers” who claim to have invested millions in cryptocurrency and promise their victims similar profits through Bitcoin investments.

These scammers often request an upfront fee, which they then steal. Furthermore, they may also ask for personal data to transfer or deposit funds, gaining access to their victims’ cryptocurrency in the process.


Warning Signs to Watch Out For

When exploring the question, “Is crypto a scam?” educate yourself about cryptocurrencies and the red flags associated with cryptocurrency schemes, such as Bitcoin frauds.

Bitcoin with a green graph increasing

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission has identified several red flags that can help you make informed decisions and avoid becoming a victim of crypto fraud:

  • Guaranteed High Returns: Be cautious of projects that promise consistently high returns with little or no risk. In the crypto world, high returns typically come with higher risks.
  • Aggressive Marketing Tactics: Scammers may use aggressive marketing tactics, including unsolicited emails, cold calls, or social media messages, to promote their schemes.
  • Lack of Transparency: Legitimate projects usually have open-source code, active development, and transparent team members. Be wary of projects that lack these elements or refuse to provide clear information about their operations.
  • Urgency and FOMO: Scammers often create a sense of urgency and fear of missing out (FOMO) to pressure potential investors. Be skeptical of projects that use countdown timers and limited-time offers or emphasize the need to invest immediately.
  • Unverifiable Team Members: Scammers may use fake names or nonexistent team members to build credibility.
  • Poorly Written or Vague Whitepapers: Be cautious of projects with poorly written or vague whitepapers that lack clear use cases, technical details, or roadmaps.
  • Anonymous or Unregulated Platforms: Watch out for projects that operate on anonymous or unregulated platforms, as they may be more susceptible to scams and fraudulent activities.
  • Unrealistic Technical Claims: Scammers may make exaggerated or unrealistic claims about their project’s technical capabilities to attract investors. Be skeptical of projects that claim to solve all existing problems in the crypto industry without providing concrete evidence.
  • Copycat Projects: Some scammers copy legitimate projects’ names, logos, or websites to deceive investors.
  • Fake Endorsements: Be wary of projects that claim endorsements from well-known individuals or organizations without providing verifiable proof.
  • Social Media Manipulation: Scammers may use fake social media accounts, bots, or paid influencers to create artificial hype around their projects.

Protecting Yourself From Crypto Frauds

Remember that even seemingly lucrative crypto investment opportunities carry risks, such as falling into a fraudster’s trap.

To lower the risk of falling victim to fraudulent crypto investments, consider these tips:

  • Research the Team: Verify team members’ background, experience, and legitimacy on professional platforms like LinkedIn or by checking their involvement in previous projects.
  • Evaluate the Whitepaper: Analyze the project’s whitepaper for technical details, use cases, and a clear roadmap. A well-researched and comprehensive whitepaper can be a good indicator of a legitimate project.
  • Check for Code Transparency: Legitimate projects often have open-source code available on platforms like GitHub. Verify if the project has an active development history and community engagement.
  • Assess the Community and Social Media Presence: Legal projects usually have active and engaged communities on platforms like Reddit, Telegram, and Twitter. Check for discussions, announcements, and updates from the project team.
  • Look for Third-party Audits or Endorsements: Reputable projects may undergo third-party audits or have endorsements from well-known industry figures or organizations.
  • Verify Exchange Listings: Legitimate cryptocurrencies are typically listed on reputable exchanges such as Coinbase, Binance, and Kraken. Check if the crypto is listed on major exchanges and analyze trading volumes and price history.
  • Use Secure Wallets: Store your cryptocurrencies in secure wallets such as hardware wallets like Ledger Nano S and Trezor or reputable software wallets like MyEtherWallet and Electrum. These wallets offer better security features to protect your assets from scams and theft.
  • Be Wary of Phishing Attacks: Avoid clicking on suspicious links or downloading unknown files. Make sure the website URL starts with “https,” or there is a closed padlock icon next to the URL. Consider using antivirus software with real-time link scanning to check for malware.
  • Monitor News and Industry Updates: Stay informed about the latest developments in the cryptocurrency industry and monitor news about the project you’re interested in. Legitimate projects should have consistent updates and a history of delivering on their promises.
  • Check Regulatory Compliance: Ensure the project complies with relevant regulations in your jurisdiction. Legitimate projects should be transparent about their legal status and any necessary licenses or registrations, such as registration with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), or compliance with the European Union’s Anti-Money Laundering (AML) regulations.
  • Monitor the DFPI Crypto Scam Tracker: The California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) maintains a crypto scam tracker that lists known scams and fraudulent schemes. Search the provided table by company name, scam type, or keywords to reveal specific complaints the DFPI has received.
  • Report Crypto Scams: If you encounter or fall victim to a crypto fraud, report it to relevant authorities, such as local law enforcement, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), or other regulatory bodies in your jurisdiction.

As Sam Bankman-Fried, CEO and co-founder of FTX Group, a cryptocurrency exchange and crypto hedge fund company, advises, “Never ever, ever, ever put in more money than you feel comfortable losing to something that you don’t fully understand or that has large volatility.”


Alternative Investments to Protect Against Crypto Scams

Crypto investments are highly volatile and risky, often resulting in significant losses. Therefore, investing in crypto is not for everyone, especially those who prefer relatively safer investment options.

Now, you may be wondering: “I don’t want to risk losing my money to crypto hypes and scams. Are there other investment opportunities?”

Luckily, there are other ways to grow your money that may present less risk. Here are some investments to consider:

Precious Metals

Investing in precious metals, such as gold, silver, platinum, and palladium, can be a viable alternative to cryptocurrencies, providing a more traditional and time-tested approach to diversifying your investment portfolio.

Gold coins and bars

There are several advantages to investing in precious metals, including the following:

  • Tangible Assets: Precious metals are physical assets you can hold and touch, providing a sense of security and reassurance in your investments.
  • Store of Value: Historically, precious metals, particularly gold, have demonstrated their ability to hold value over time, making them a reliable long-term investment. Between 2005 and 2020, gold prices increased by 330%.
  • Inflation Hedge: Precious metals can act as a hedge against inflation, preserving your purchasing power when fiat currencies lose value. For instance, between 2021 and 2022, gold outperformed stocks.
  • Portfolio Diversification: Including precious metals in your investment portfolio can help spread risk and offer protection during economic uncertainty or market volatility.
  • Lower Correlation: Precious metals tend to have a lower correlation with traditional asset classes like stocks and bonds, helping to maintain balance in your investment portfolio.

If you’re an investor worried about crypto scams, consider precious metals for added security and stability. Here are some investment options:

  • Coins and Bars: Physical coins and bars, like the American Gold Eagle or Canadian Silver Maple Leaf, are tangible assets that give you direct ownership of precious metals. As a result, you benefit from their intrinsic value and the potential for capital appreciation. Coins and bars are also less susceptible to digital risks, such as hacking or fraud. Some of the best gold coins to buy include the American Eagle and Canadian Maple Leaf. You can search for precious metal coins and bars from reputable dealers and buy gold online directly from the website.
  • Precious Metal IRAs: With a self-directed precious metal IRA, you can include physical gold, silver, platinum, or palladium within a tax-advantaged retirement account. An IRA can be a secure long-term investment strategy that can protect your retirement savings from market volatility.
  • ETFs: A precious metal ETF tracks the price of a specific metal or group of metals, such as the SPDR Gold Shares (GLD) or iShares Silver Trust (SLV). This allows investors to profit from the metals’ price movements without having to own physical assets.
  • Mining Stocks: By investing in mining stocks, you can indirectly benefit from rising metal prices, potentially enjoy higher returns when market conditions are favorable, and diversify your investment portfolio. Plus, it’s a convenient option as there’s no need to store or insure physical assets like gold or silver bars. Mining stock options include the Newmont Corporation (NEM) or Pan American Silver Corporation (PAAS).

Real Estate

If you’re searching for another alternative to the volatility of crypto investments, real estate can be an option.

For sale sign in front of house

Some of the key benefits of real estate investments include the following:

  • Appreciation Potential: Over time, real estate properties may appreciate in value, providing potential capital gains.
  • Rental Income: Investment properties can generate rental income, offering a steady cash flow.
  • Tax Benefits: Real estate investments may qualify for various tax benefits, such as depreciation deductions and mortgage interest deductions.
  • Portfolio Diversification: Adding real estate investments to your portfolio can help spread risk and offer protection during economic uncertainty or market volatility.

Various real estate investment options cater to different investor preferences and risk profiles. Here are some options:

  • Residential Properties: Investing in single-family homes, duplexes, or apartment buildings can provide rental income and potential appreciation.
  • Commercial Properties: Owning office buildings, retail spaces, or industrial properties can generate income from businesses that lease the space.
  • Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs): REITs are publicly traded companies that invest in income-producing real estate properties. REITs provide investors an easy way to gain exposure to real estate without directly owning properties.
  • House Flipping: You can purchase properties at below-market value, renovate them, and sell them for a profit. A fixer-upper in an up-and-coming neighborhood can be an excellent opportunity if you have the skills and resources to manage renovations.

Mutual Funds

Mutual funds are professionally managed investment options.  Mutual funds pool money from many investors to buy a diversified portfolio of assets like stocks and bonds.  This way, you can spread your risks and potentially earn stable returns.

 Mutual funds offer the following benefits:

  • Diversification: A single mutual fund can hold hundreds of different investments, reducing the risk associated with any single security.
  • Professional Management: With mutual funds, you get access to expert fund managers who make investment decisions on your behalf, so you don’t have to be an investment whiz.
  • Liquidity: Mutual funds can be bought or sold daily, making them a more accessible option for investors who need flexibility.
  • Affordability: Many mutual funds have low minimum investment requirements, opening the door to a wider audience.

For example, the Vanguard 500 Index Fund (VFIAX) tracks the performance of the S&P 500, giving investors exposure to 500 of the largest U.S. companies. Another option is the T. Rowe Price Global Technology Fund (PRGTX), which invests in innovative technology companies worldwide.

Bonds

Bonds are a popular choice for income-oriented investors seeking stability.

Bonds are essentially IOUs issued by governments, corporations, or other entities that promise to pay back the face value of the loan plus a fixed interest rate over a predetermined period.

Variety of U.S. bonds and currency

Bonds are generally a more reliable investment option compared to cryptocurrencies because they are a form of debt security issued by companies, municipalities, or governments. Moreover, bonds typically have a lower risk of loss compared to cryptocurrencies.

Why? The issuer is legally obligated to repay the bondholder’s principal amount plus interest upon maturity. In contrast, the value of cryptocurrencies can go to zero if the market crashes or if there is a major security breach.

So, how do they work? When you buy a bond, you’re lending money to the issuer, and in return, they’ll pay you periodic interest until the bond matures, at which point you’ll get your initial investment back.

Here are some advantages of bonds that make them an attractive investment option:

  • Income Generation: Bonds can provide a steady stream of income through periodic interest payments, also known as coupon payments.
  • Diversification: Adding bonds to your portfolio can help balance risk, as they often have lower volatility than equities or cryptocurrencies.
  • Capital Preservation: Bonds are typically considered lower-risk investments, which means that, in most cases, your initial investment is relatively safe.
  • Inflation Protection: Some bonds, like Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS), are designed to keep up with inflation, safeguarding your purchasing power.

For instance, you might invest in a U.S. Treasury Bond with a 10-year maturity and a 2% annual interest rate, which means you’ll receive 2% of your investment every year until the bond matures, and then you’ll get your initial investment back.


Sum Up

In this blog post, we’ve examined the question, “Is crypto a scam?” While not all cryptocurrencies are scams, there are various crypto-related crimes, with crypto scams being the most prominent.

We’ve delved into different scams, such as Ponzi schemes and fake Initial Coin Offerings. Additionally, we’ve discussed how to avoid them by conducting thorough research, ensuring project transparency, and verifying legitimacy.

For those skeptical of cryptocurrencies, we’ve provided alternative investment options, such as gold, real estate, and bonds, which can offer reliability and diversification for your portfolio.


FAQ

When seeking the right answer to “Is crypto a scam?” people often ask the following questions:

What Is a Good Way to Avoid a Crypto Phishing Scam?

To avoid a crypto phishing scam, be cautious when interacting with unsolicited emails or messages, especially those claiming to be from a cryptocurrency exchange or wallet provider.

Double-check the URL and website address before entering any sensitive information. Enable two-factor authentication for added security and remain skeptical of offers that seem too good to be true. Finally, never share your private keys or seed phrases with anyone.  

Is It Possible to Recover Funds Lost in a Cryptocurrency Scam?

Recovering funds lost in a cryptocurrency scam can be challenging. In some cases, it may be possible if you contact law enforcement immediately. Some cryptocurrency exchanges and wallet providers might offer assistance or compensation to affected users, but this is not guaranteed.

How Do I Know if a Crypto Wallet Is Secure?

Research the wallet provider, read user reviews, and check if it has a solid track record. Reputable wallets typically offer features like multi-signature authentication and two-factor authentication (2FA).

Are Celebrity Endorsements a Sign of a Legitimate Crypto Project?

Not necessarily. Scammers may use fake endorsements to encourage victims to invest in the crypto project. Always conduct your own research, and don’t rely solely on endorsements.

To verify a celebrity endorsement of a crypto project:

  • Check the celebrity’s official social media profiles for related posts or announcements.
  • Look for reputable news sources reporting on the endorsement.
  • Search for interviews or statements by the celebrity or their representatives confirming the endorsement.
  • Review the celebrity’s official website or blog for any mention of the endorsement.
  • Verify if the project’s website, whitepaper, or promotional materials feature the celebrity endorsement.

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