Over 200 people have recently been caught out by fraudulent cryptocurrency companies offering seemingly legitimate services, resulting in tens of millions of dollars lost. At at the beginning of 2022, the FBI says at least 28 people were scammed out of $3.7 million over a period of five months by convincing people to deposit crypto into fake wallet apps.
The FBI alert (PDF warning) states that, these cybercriminals posed as a legitimate US financial institution, but "when 13 of the 28 victims attempted to withdraw funds from the app, they received an email stating they had to pay taxes on their investments before making withdrawals." They paid, but the money didn't come.
The alert goes on to warn of $5.5 million stolen from four victims of the YiBit app, who were told they had to pay taxes on their investment but were still denied access to their funds after payment was made.
As well, $900,000 was extorted by one victim of Supayos, AKA Supay—which had been using the name of an Australian currency exchange firm to appear legitimate. The company told the victim $900,000 was the minimum balance, which he didn't consent to, and threatened to freeze all his assets unless the payment was made.
These are just a small portion of the recent victims, but it's clear this is enough of an issue now that the FBI is taking real notice. As they say, the actions of these cybercriminals is "defrauding US investors and causing reputational harm to US investment firms."
According to a Chainalysis' overview of 2022 crypto crime trends (via The Register), illicit crypto activity has reached a strange point. It's at its highest in terms of value, and yet it makes up the smallest percentage of all cryptocurrency activity. What that says to me is that scammers are getting smarter.
Year on year, the number of cybercriminals using cryptocurrency as a guise rose by 79% in 2021, but that number is nothing compared to overall crypto adoption numbers, which rose by 567% and carried a total transaction volume of $15.8 trillion.
But, as the report notes crypto scam profits are still high, and "$14 billion worth of illicit activity represents a significant problem."
It's easy to believe as a potential crypto investor that it would never happen to you. "I'm not stupid enough to hand over my 'hard earned' crypto to some dodgy investor who emailed me out of the blue, or deposit it into a random wallet app," you say. But it's never as simple as that.
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Crypto scammers use all kinds of tactics now to draw out their mark, even some super convoluted methods no one suspected, such as when the British army Twitter and Youtube accounts were taken over by hackers the other week in order to shill NFTs. Even Crypto.com itself isn't safe from hackers.
So if you're considering dipping your toes into the world of cryptocurrency right now, despite the unprecedented crash that's been leading to crypto lenders filing for bankruptcy, it's a good idea to double check the legitimacy of any apps you plan to use.
Any old hacker could be posing as a legitimate investment firm offering cryptocurrency exchanges through mobile apps. And even now, as crypto miners are thinking about selling off their suddenly unwanted GPUs, hackers are constantly on the prowl, and they smell freshly minted crypto coinage.