Fraudsters cash in on crypto as returns from investment scams jump by 58%

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Cyber ​​criminals are increasingly exploiting interest in cryptocurrencies to scam speculators and prey on British pension pots, new research has revealed.

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Crypto scammers have seen their returns almost double in the last 12 months, according to cybersecurity company NordVPN.

Total losses from UK investment fraud involving fake digital currencies, websites, apps or funds have risen to more than £226 million in the year to May 2022 – up from the £143 million lost during the 12 months before that.

Bitcoin bandits: Latest figures for reported fraud linked to digital currency scams show a 58% rise in money stolen year on year

Bitcoin bandits: Latest figures for reported fraud linked to digital currency scams show a 58% rise in money stolen year on year

Bitcoin bandits: Latest figures for reported fraud linked to digital currency scams show a 58% rise in money stolen year on year

This year, scammers have already made off with £118 million, and currently pocket £36,250 per fraud.

As cryptocurrencies are not regulated by the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority, criminals are finding it easier to lure Britons to bogus investment and pension schemes with the promise of market-beating returns.

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These fake schemes appear to have become more profitable for scammers despite much of the cryptocurrency market having slumped over the past six months.

The two biggest names, bitcoin and ethereum, are each down 48 percent and 62 percent respectively since the beginning of the year – as of July 8.

However, while the amounts being stolen is rising steeply, this year’s data shows only a small increase in the number of incidents reported, suggesting criminals could be profiling victims to extract more from their scams.

Cryptocurrency investment and pension fraud 2021-2022
Month Volume report Financial loss Loss per incident
June 2021 875 £20,275,547 £23,172
July 2021 721 £12,545,679 £17,400
August 2021 738 £13,336,233 £18,071
September 2021 668 £14,207,558 £21,269
October 2021 808 £15,623,715 £19,336
November 2021 815 £16,662,324 £20,445
December 2021 783 £15,661,991 £20,003
January 2022 1,040 £19,158,977 £18,422
February 2022 900 £15,225,636 £16,917
March 2022 936 £37,698,663 £40,276
April 2022 892 £12,908,057 £14,471
May 2022 911 £33,024,379 £36,251

Marijus Briedis, chief technology officer and digital privacy expert at NordVPN said: ‘With inflation skyrocketing and traditional savings rates failing to keep up, bogus crypto investment schemes offering the prospect for high returns are the perfect bait for scammers.

‘These frauds are thriving, despite the huge crash in Bitcoin and other currencies, and worryingly the clear rise in the amounts stolen per fraud shows the scammers are getting better at fleecing their victims.

‘With huge amounts of personal and financial information for sale on the Dark Web, it could be that individuals are now being specifically targeted by hackers.’

How does it work?

Often the schemes will be advertised on social media, using fake celebrity endorsements from respected financial experts like Martin Lewis, or stars of the TV investment show Dragons’ Den.

Hackers may also use phishing emails or text messages, either to persuade victims to invest in a non-existent cryptocurrency fund via a bogus website, or to encourage them to click on a link or download an app containing malware.

This can then infect their devices and steal data or drain money from online accounts.

Cyber ​​thieves' success at touting fake schemes has come despite the crypto crash.

Cyber ​​thieves' success at touting fake schemes has come despite the crypto crash.

Cyber ​​thieves’ success at touting fake schemes has come despite the crypto crash.

Malibot, a new and highly aggressive form of malware, which targets devices running the Android operating system, is being spread using a website and text messages offering fake links to real cryptocurrency apps, TheCryptoApp and Mining X.

Once these links are downloaded, Malibot, created in Russia, can quickly give criminals access to a victim’s phone, enabling them to harvest personal and financial data and send messages to other phones spreading the malware further.

Briedis adds: ‘With banking and investing online a part of everyday life it is vital to take steps to keep fraudsters at bay.

‘This includes making use of smart tech like VPNs and virus-checking software, and increasing your digital safety by creating strong passwords and checking the source of any link, site or app before you click.’

How to protect yourself?

1) Beware of dodgy downloads

Don’t click on suspicious download links, even if they appear to be for a real app. Always use official digital marketplaces like Google Play or Apple’s App Store

2) Don’t be rushed

Whatever the promised returns, no genuine investment scheme will put you under pressure to hand over your money immediately

3) Do your homework

Talk through any significant investments with friends or an adviser and do an online search on any potential scheme.

4) Be suspicious of any celebrity endorsement

Many fraudulent schemes feature well-known figures in their online and social media advertising, but be wary of any celebrity endorsements.

For example, more than 1,000 fake schemes claiming to have the backing of financial expert Martin Lewis were reported to Action Fraud.

5) Use a VPN service

As well as encrypting your traffic so hackers won’t be able to see what you do online, a VPN service can in some cases also check files you download for mal

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