Victims have lost tens of thousands of pounds in March alone to cryptocurrency scams with fake celebrity endorsements from the likes of Martin Lewis and Deborah Meaden, according to new data from the City of London Police.
Fraudulent websites claiming to offer cryptocurrency investments have been using unauthorised images and false recommendations from well-known financial experts to trick people into giving away their money.
Find out how the scam works and how you can protect yourself online.
What is a celebrity cryptocurrency scam?
Increasingly, criminals are using celebrity images to trick people into using cryptocurrencies to invest in fake businesses. In March alone, 21 reports of this type of scam were made to the police, with victims losing over £34,000.
The fake cryptocurrency investments have been advertised through social media and on other websites.
Users who click on the advert find a full page article showing the images of well-known financial experts alongside fake quotes recommending that they invest using cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin.
Others lead to a call-back form, where the user enters their details and the fraduster calls to try and persuade them to invest.
The images of prominent figures such as Deborah Meaden from BBC’s Dragon’s Den and Martin Lewis, the founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, have been used in these types of scams.
Dragons’ Den investor, Deborah Meaden, urged the public to remain vigilant. She says: ‘With the growing sophistication of online fraud, it becomes increasingly important to carry out checks before parting with cash online.
A quick Google search will often reveal the truth and all online advertising should be read set against the premise of “If it looks too good to be true then it probably is!”‘
Founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, Martin Lewis also warned against any adverts claiming to be endorsed by him.
He says: ‘I find it sickening that these people are leeching off the trust I’ve spent years building in order to target vulnerable people and attempt to steal their money.
Let me be very plain. I never do adverts. If you see my picture in an advert on Facebook or anywhere else recommending products – be it Bitcoin, binary trading, PPI firms or anything else – they are nothing to do with me. Be very, very careful.’
What is a cryptocurrency?
A cryptocurrency is a digital currency that operates worldwide outside the control of any government or central bank.
A secure process called cryptography is used to verify and record all transactions. There are a number of cryptocurrencies available including Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple and Litecoin.
Be aware that these products are unregulated and highly volatile. If you invest with Bitcoin, or use Bitcoin to make a payment, you will have little recourse for claiming back your money in the case of a scam.
How to spot an investment scam
Criminals often use platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to trick people into investing in cyrptocurrencies such as Bitcoin.
Here are some of the warning signs that an investment opportunity might actually be a scam.
It seems too good to be true
If an investment seems unbelievably attractive, you should probably be skeptical. When a company promises high returns for little to no risk, this should raise red flags.
Companies contact you out of the blue
Scammers often contact people randomly through cold calling, unsolicited texts, emails and letters or via social media. So beware if someone gets in touch with an unsolicited offer.
They pressure you into making a rush decision
Some fraudulent companies use limited time offers, bonuses or discounts to get you to sign up as soon as possible, before you’ve had a chance to think it through. This may convince you to make a decision without doing your due diligence.
They call or email you repeatedly or keep you on the line
Beware of companies that try to pressure you into making a decision by persistently contacting you or not letting you end a call with them.
They ask you to keep the investment quiet
Watch out for companies that try to keep your ‘investment’ a secret.
Some scammers do this by telling you that the investment opportunity is exclusive to you and that you shouldn’t tell anyone else – but generally, they’re trying to prevent others raising the alarm.
They’re not registered on the FCA website
In the UK a company must be authorised and regulated by the FCA to offer most financial services activities. You can check if a company is legitimate by using the financial services register. The FCA also has a warning list so you can check if you’re dealing with a known scam outfit.
If you think you might have lost money to an fraudulent online investment, report it to Action Fraud straight away using their online fraud reporting tool or contacting them via telephone 0300 123 2040.
For more help and tips take a look at our guide on how to get your money back after a scam.