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Common bitcoin scams — and how to avoid them

Our guide to how to spot bitcoin scams and stay safe when trading and using cryptocurrency.

Last updated: 21 June 2020

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Cryptocurrencies are complicated, very confusing to new users and lightly regulated — all of which makes them an ideal target for scammers.

But with a little bit of know-how and some good old-fashioned common sense, you can do plenty to protect yourself against cryptocurrency scams.

Keep reading for the lowdown on the most common bitcoin scams and how to avoid them.

8 common crypto scams to keep an eye out for

Watch out for scams

A number of concerns have been raised regarding the cryptocurrency and ICO markets, including that, as they are currently operating, there is substantially less investor protection than in our traditional securities markets, with correspondingly greater opportunities for fraud and manipulation.”

Checklist: How to detect a crypto scam

Unsure whether a particular crypto website is a scam or not? Use this checklist to help sort legitimate providers from those platforms you’re better off avoiding altogether.

Does the website connect securely over https (not http)? If the address starts with “http” instead of “https,” the data you send to the website is not secure.

Can you see the word “Secure” or an image of a padlock in your web browser’s address bar? This indicates that a website is secure.

Does the website’s URL have any noticeable spelling mistakes or errors? If so, it could be a fake.

Does the site feature bad grammar, awkward phrasing or spelling mistakes? If it does, this doesn’t necessarily indicate a scam, but it does mean you should proceed with caution.

Does the website promise abnormally high returns? (For example, does it claim you’ll be able to double your investment?) This should raise a big red flag and is a common indicator of a scam.

Is there an “About us” page? Does it show the real people behind the company? Does it provide any details about where the company is registered? If there’s little or no information about who the company is and what it does, you could be dealing with a scam.

Do legitimate, reputable websites link to this site? This could indicate that the site is trusted and respected.

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What do other users say about the website? Are there any negative reviews and, if so, what do they say? The crypto community is usually pretty quick to spread the word about scams.

Who is the registered owner of a domain or website? Is the owner hidden behind private registration? Has the domain been registered for less than six months? (You can find this information by searching for the platform’s URL registration details on a site like WHOis.net). The more information you can find about the people/company behind a website, the better.

Is there anything else about the website that raises red flags or just seems too good to be true? If there’s something that just doesn’t seem right, trust your gut.

Please note that this checklist is far from foolproof, as it’s possible for a website to pass several of the above tests with flying colors and still be a scam. The important thing to remember is to do your due diligence before providing any personal or financial information to any website or app.

1. Phishing

The first scam on the list is one that you may well be familiar with already, as it’s also been widely used to target customers from major banks.

Known as “phishing,” this type of scam occurs when you receive an unsolicited email that looks as if it’s from your bank — or, in this case, from your crypto exchange or wallet provider. This email contains a link that takes you to a site that looks almost identical to the exchange or wallet you usually use, but is actually a scam site.

Once you enter your account details on this unofficial page, the scammers have everything they need to log in to your real account and steal your funds.

How to avoid phishing scams:

  • Always double-check URLs to make sure you’re visiting the genuine website.
  • Don’t click on suspicious links that are emailed to you.
  • Never disclose your private key.

2. Fake exchanges and wallets

In a similar vein to phishing scams, keep an eye out for fake bitcoin exchanges. They might walk and talk like a reputable exchange, but they’re merely a front to separate consumers from their hard-earned cash.

Some will entice users with promotional offers that sound too good to be true. Others pressure users into creating an account and depositing funds, perhaps even offering “bonuses” to those who deposit larger amounts. But once they have your money these platforms might charge ridiculously high fees, make it very difficult to withdraw funds or simply steal your deposit altogether.

Other scammers have turned their attention to creating quite sophisticated fake wallet apps that, once downloaded to a user’s smartphone, can be used to steal critical account details. These apps have even made it into official, legitimate app stores like Google Play, so it pays to do your research before downloading anything to your phone.

BitKRX

In December 2020, the bitcoin community and South Korean authorities exposed a fake exchange known as BitKRX.

By posing as a legitimate exchange and passing itself off as a branch of KRX, a large and reputable trading platform, it was able to ensnare innocent users.

How to avoid fake exchange and fake wallet scams:
  • Stick with well-known and popular exchanges.
  • Thoroughly research any exchange or wallet before creating an account — who is the team behind the exchange or wallet? Where is the company registered? Are there reliable reviews from other users confirming its legitimacy?
  • Don’t let yourself be pressured into depositing funds or providing any personal information.
  • Don’t just randomly pick a wallet from the app store — only download apps and software from legitimate wallet providers and exchanges.

Two of the apps, “Poloniex” and “Poloniex Exchange,” were downloaded more than 5,500 times before they were removed from the store. These apps asked Poloniex users to enter their account credentials, thereby giving fraudsters a way to perform transactions on behalf of users and even lock victims out of their own accounts.

3. Old-school scams

Cryptos may be based on new technology, but there are still plenty of scammers using old tricks to con unwitting consumers.

The classic example of this is an unsolicited phone call or email from someone claiming to be with the IRS. This fictional tax man will try to convince you that you owe the IRS money and you’ll be facing legal action if you don’t transfer them a certain amount of bitcoin as soon as possible.

The tried-and-tested “Nigerian prince” scam has also migrated into the world of cryptocurrency. So if you’re ever contacted out of the blue by someone overseas promising you a share in a large sum of digital currency if you help them transfer funds out of their own country, use your common sense and recognize it for the scam it is.

How to avoid old-school scams:
  • Use your common sense.
  • Don’t trust unsolicited emails or phone calls.

4. Fraudulent ICOs

Seduced by the astronomical price rises bitcoin has experienced since its inception, many everyday consumers venture into the world of cryptocurrency looking for the next big thing. After all, if “the next bitcoin” ever actually arrives, getting in at the ground floor could see early-adopters earn a fortune.

And if you want to get in on the ground floor, the easiest option for the average person is to buy coins or tokens in an ICO. There’s a huge appetite for new digital currencies — in the first half of 2020 alone, ICOs raised a total of $11.69 billion — and with many new buyers having limited knowledge of how the crypto industry works, it’s the perfect breeding ground for scammers.

Pincoin and iFan

In April 2020, the Pincoin and iFan ICOs, run by the same Vietnam-based company, are believed to have cheated more than 30,000 investors out of a combined total of $660 million.

iFan was meant to be a social media platform for celebrities and Pincoin promised 40% monthly returns to investors. Both were later shown to be multi-level marketing (MLM) scams.

This has led to the rise of fake ICOs which, with some slick marketing and a little bit of hype, can convince people to buy a cryptocurrency that doesn’t actually exist. For example, one report found that 78% of ICOs in 2020 were scams, while a separate report put that figure at above 80%.

Finally, if you’re dreaming of getting rich quick from a crypto ICO, be aware that for every ICO success story there are many, many more failures, even if the project isn’t a scam.

How to avoid fraudulent ICOs:
  • Thoroughly research any ICO before buying in. Look at the team behind the project, its white paper, the purpose of the currency, the tech behind it and the specifics of the token sale.

5. Ponzi or pyramid schemes

A Ponzi scheme is a simple but alarmingly effective scam that lures in new investors with the promise of unusually high returns. Here’s how it works: a promoter convinces people to invest in their scheme. These initial investors receive what they believe to be returns, but are actually payouts from the money deposited by newer investors. Now satisfied that the scheme is legit, those investors who received payouts pump more of their money into the scheme and encourage others to do the same.

Sooner or later, the scheme collapses when the promoter runs off with the money or it becomes too difficult to lure new investors. These types of pyramid schemes are nothing new and can be easy to spot, but that hasn’t stopped some crypto buyers from being scammed in a handful of high-profile incidents.

Bitconnect

In January 2020, bitcoin investment lending platform Bitconnect shut down its lending and exchange services amid allegations it was a Ponzi scheme. Launched in early 2020 with promises of returns of up to 40% per month, the platform was quick to attract criticism from the wider crypto community and soon drew the attention of regulators.

How to avoid Ponzi/pyramid schemes:
  • Look out for cryptocurrency projects that encourage you to recruit new investors to enjoy bigger profits.
  • Never trust a scheme that promises returns that sound too good to be true.

6. Malware

Malware has long been a weapon in the arsenal of online scammers. But thanks to the complicated and highly technical nature of cryptocurrencies, much of which isn’t well understood by most people, malware now poses an even bigger threat.

Rather than stealing credit card and bank account details, crypto-related malware is designed to get access to your web wallet and drain your account, monitor the Windows clipboard for cryptocurrency addresses and replace your legitimate address with an address belonging to a scammer, or even infect your computer with a cryptocurrency miner.

How to avoid cryptocurrency malware scams:
  • Update your antivirus software regularly to protect yourself against malware.
  • Never download and install programs unless you’re 100% sure they’re from a reputable, legitimate provider.
  • Don’t open suspicious attachments.

7. Mining scams

Cloud mining allows you to mine cryptocurrencies like bitcoin without having to purchase the expensive hardware required to do so. There are several legitimate cloud mining services that let users rent server space to mine for coins at a set rate.

However, there are also plenty of cloud mining scams out there. Some promise astronomical (and implausible) returns and fail to disclose a range of hidden fees, while others are fronts for Ponzi scams and are simply designed to part you from your money.

How to avoid cryptocurrency mining scams:
  • Thoroughly research any cloud mining operation before signing up. Does it use https? Does it have a public mining address? How long has it been in business? Can you find any legitimate reviews from other users? Does the site have a registered domain name? Can the company provide proof of equipment?
  • Be extremely wary of companies that “guarantee” profit.

8. Pumps and dumps

Cryptocurrencies are often dismissed as a speculator’s dream come true that are ripe for a little bit of market manipulation, which has led to the rise of what are known as “pump and dump” schemes. This is where large groups of buyers target an altcoin with a small market cap, buy that coin en masse at a particular time to drive its price up (which attracts a whole lot of new buyers fueled by FOMO — a fear of missing out) and then sell to take advantage of the significant price rise.

This sort of thing is illegal in traditional securities markets, but is a common occurrence in the largely unregulated world of cryptocurrencies. In fact, there are several online groups and forums dedicated to this exact practice, so it’s important that you stay savvy and know how to steer clear of these scams.

How to avoid pump and dump scams:
  • Be wary of low-market-cap cryptos that normally have a low trading volume but that suddenly experience a sharp price rise.
  • Keep an eye out for “fake news” on social media that hypes particular coins.
  • Carefully research the credentials of any cryptocurrency before buying.

In January 2020, a fake Twitter account purporting to belong to cybersecurity guru and crypto enthusiast John McAfee tweeted support for the GVT cryptocurrency, naming it “coin of the day.”

For some in the crypto community, this was good enough reason to buy some GVT, and just four minutes after the tweet was posted the price of GVT had jumped from $30 to $45 and trading volume had doubled. Fifteen minutes later, the price was hovering around the $30 mark once again, after early buyers “dumped” and ran.

On closer inspection, the Twitter account was revealed to be bogus and not associated with McAfee at all. Instead, it was simply a key player in a pump and dump scheme devised and implemented in a chat room called “Big Pump Signal.”

Simple tips to help you stay safe

There are plenty of other simple steps you can take to protect yourself against fraud, such as:

Use 2-factor authentication

If you’re using a crypto wallet or exchange that supports two-factor authentication, enable this feature before depositing any funds. It’s simple to set up and provides an extra layer of account security.

Use a cold wallet

A “hot” wallet is one that’s connected to the Internet, while a “cold” wallet is one that’s held offline. Storing your crypto offline in a secure physical cold wallet is usually considered to be a much safer option than using an online wallet.

Stick with established providers

Avoid new and untested platforms. Let the early-adopters take the risks and make sure you don’t get involved with an exchange or wallet until you can be sure it’s legitimate.

Make sure your PC is protected against malware by keeping your antivirus software up to date.

Always double-check addresses

Get into the habit of scanning the URL bar to look for the https and “secure” lock symbol, and remember to double-check the URL to make sure you’re visiting the correct site.

Never share your private keys with anyone

You need your private key to access your crypto holdings, so make sure you never disclose any of your private keys to a third party.

Beware of These Top 5 Bitcoin Scams

The value of bitcoins goes up, and then it comes back down. The press is all over the story. Pundits and market watchers all have their opinion and voice it loudly across the airwaves and the Internet.

Bitcoin has taken us all on quite a rollercoaster ride. Only time will tell whether this cryptocurrency, which has been controversial since its introduction in 2008, will continue booming or if the bubble will burst and prompt more people to short-sell Bitcoin.

One thing is certain: Bitcoin’s meteoric rise has attracted a lot of attention. People may not understand the technology or philosophy behind Bitcoin, but they do see stories of early adopters and savvy investors who turned a few thousand bucks into millions when Bitcoin’s value increased.

And they want to be one of them.

Unfortunately, that puts them in a position—along with veteran investors—to be victims of opportunistic con artists and hackers who perpetrate Bitcoin scams. One of the benefits of cryptocurrency is that it’s unregulated by the government and very private. But that also makes it ripe for fraud.

Let’s check out the top five Bitcoin scams you need to look out for:

Bitcoin Scam 1: Fake Bitcoin Exchanges

In 2020, South Korean financial authorities and the local Bitcoin community exposed one of the most insidious Bitcoin scams: a fake exchange called BitKRX. It presented itself as part of the largest trading platform in the country and took people’s money. To avoid this, you should stick with popular, well-known Bitcoin exchanges and Bitcoin forums so you get news of fakes quickly.

Bitcoin Scam 2: Ponzi Schemes

Bernie Madoff is perhaps the most well-known Ponzi schemer. He did it with mainstream investments. But the principle of a pyramid scheme, in which you take money from new investors to pay previous investors, can be applied to Bitcoin scams. MiningMax, one such scheme, brought in $200 million before 14 fraudsters were arrested. As you can imagine, the investors never got any returns on their Bitcoin investments.

Bitcoin Scam 3: Fake Cryptocurrencies

A common scam is to present a new cryptocurrency as an alternative to Bitcoin. The idea is that it’s too late to cash in on Bitcoin and that you need to invest in one of these up-and-coming cryptocurrencies. My Big Coin was shut down for this reason. The fraudsters behind My Big Coin took $6 million from customers to invest in the fake cryptocurrency and then redirected the funds into their personal bank accounts.

Bitcoin Scam 4: Old School Scams

If somebody emailed or called and said they were from the IRS and that you owed back taxes that had to be paid immediately, would you send them money? Many people do. Instead of having the victim wire money via Western Union or transfer funds to a bank account, con artists are contacting victims and demanding that victims transfer bitcoins. The best way to avoid this scam is to be skeptical of phone calls or emails that say they’re from a government agency. Legitimate authorities wouldn’t contact you that way, and they won’t ask for bitcoins.

Bitcoin Scam 5: Malware

Malware has long been a way for hackers to get passwords needed to access computer networks or steal credit card and bank account numbers. Now they’re using it to conduct another one of the most common Bitcoin scams. If your Bitcoin wallet is connected to the Internet, they can use malware to get access and drain your funds if you’re not protecting yourself from malware.

You can download malware by clicking links in your email. You can also download it from websites and social media. There might be a post, for example, where someone claims a certain program allows you to mine bitcoins for free. Download it, and you get malware.

When in Doubt, Verify

If you’re not sure of a website or email’s legitimacy, contact the company involved directly. If you can’t find the company’s contact information easily on social media or on its website, that’s a red flag.

Don’t Fall Victim to Bitcoin Scams

Bitcoin is a volatile enough investment as it is. Don’t increase your chances of losing money by falling prey to these Bitcoin scams. Stay alert for potential fraudsters and trust your instincts. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Bitcoin Cloud Mining

Want to find the best Bitcoin cloud mining contracts? This post has you covered.

Most Bitcoin Cloud Mining Companies are Scams

Like the heading says, most cloud mining contracts are scams. Why?

Because it’s easy for companies to take peoples’ money, and then not pay out. A company can claim to be a cloud mining company without any proof of actually owning any hardware.

So remember: 99.9% of cloud mining companies are scams.

Quick Tip

Mining is not the fastest way to buy bitcoins.

Which Companies Are Not Scams?

We can’t recommend any cloud mining companies at this time.

Note: If you do find one, you’ll need a wallet to receive payouts to. A secure hardware wallet like the Ledger Nano X is a good option.

Is Cloud Mining Profitable?

It depends what your goals are with cloud mining. If your goal is to obtain bitcoins, then there is really no reason to cloud mine or even mine at all.

You will get more bitcoins for your buck if you just buy bitcoins!

VPNs for Mining

As a Bitcoin miner, you may also want to look into getting a VPN.

You can never have enough security when it comes to bitcoin. Using a VPN adds an extra layer of security.

Bitcoin Cloud Mining Comparison

There is not much to compare, because we personally do not recommend buying any cloud mining contracts so we will not spend the time to compare any.

But check back in to see if we find any new, legit cloud mining companies.

Bitcoin Cloud Mining Scams History

The reason there are so many cloud mining scams is because it is very easy for anyone in the world to setup a website.

Once the website is setup it can claim that the company has a large mining facility.

The company can act legit by sending initial payments to its customers. But after that it can just keep the already received payments for hash power and then make no further payments.

In just the last few months, two cloud mining scams were uncovered: HashOcean and Bitcoin Cloud Services.

Quick Tip

Mining is not the fastest way to get bitcoins.

Try an exchange below for the fastest way to get bitcoins.

What Payment Methods do Cloud Mining Companies Accept?

Most cloud mining companies accept Bitcoin, PayPal, and credit cards. If a cloud mining company accepts bitcoins then there is a good chance it is a scam.

This is because Bitcoin payments cannot be reversed. Once the scam company receives your bitcoin payment you have no way to get your coins back.

Are there Free Cloud Mining Trials?

No company would give away free cloud mining; this is basically giving away free money.

Any company offering free trials, especially if they require payment information, is most likely a scam.

Quick Tip

Mining or buying bitcoins? You can’t do either without a Bitcoin wallet.

Our guide on the best bitcoin wallets will help you pick one. Read it here!

How does Bitcoin Cloud Mining Work?

Cloud mining means a host company owns Bitcoin mining hardware and runs it at a warehouse.

You pay the company and rent out some of the hardware. Based on the amount of hash power you rent, you will earn a share of payments from the cloud mining company for any revenue generated by the hash power you purchased.

Cloud Mining Viruses

There have been viruses that land on computers and then use the computers’ power to mine bitcoins.

Run a malware detector on your computer if you think you may have come under attack.

Is Mining Software the Same as Cloud Mining?

Mining software is something you download on your computer. It is required when you OWN mining hardware. Software connects your hardware to the internet so that it can make hashes and communicate with the network.

Just buy Bitcoins!

If you just want bitcoins, don’t bother with cloud mining. Just find an exchange in your country and buy some bitcoins.

Learn More

Best Bitcoin Mining Software

Best Bitcoin Mining Hardware

Best Bitcoin Mining Pools

Disclaimer: Buy Bitcoin Worldwide is not offering, promoting, or encouraging the purchase, sale, or trade of any security or commodity. Buy Bitcoin Worldwide is for educational purposes only. Every visitor to Buy Bitcoin Worldwide should consult a professional financial advisor before engaging in such practices. Buy Bitcoin Worldwide, nor any of its owners, employees or agents, are licensed broker-dealers, investment advisors, or hold any relevant distinction or title with respect to investing. Buy Bitcoin Worldwide does not promote, facilitate or engage in futures, options contracts or any other form of derivatives trading.

Buy Bitcoin Worldwide does not offer legal advice. Any such advice should be sought independently of visiting Buy Bitcoin Worldwide. Only a legal professional can offer legal advice and Buy Bitcoin Worldwide offers no such advice with respect to the contents of its website.

Buy Bitcoin Worldwide receives compensation with respect to its referrals for out-bound crypto exchanges and crypto wallet websites.

Wallabit Media LLC and/or its owner/writers own Bitcoin.

Super Mining

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