Massive Fake Celebrity-Endorsed Bitcoin Investment Campaign Duping Google, Facebook Traced to Moscow

A massive bitcoin ad scam campaign — which features celebrities and mainly targeted Australians — has been traced. The investigation’s findings point to a “highly organized” global business that relies on five addresses in Moscow’s center.

Massive Bitcoin Ad Scam Campaign Traced to Russia

According to The Guardian, the scam campaign’s magnitude has made it difficult for Google, Facebook, or Australia’s financial watchdogs to take down the thousands of ads deployed across the web. The ads often feature Australian celebrities like Dick Smith, Andrew Forrest, Chris Hemsworth, among others.

The sites have been operating on news media-style websites since at least 2018. The coronavirus pandemic has also been boosting victims’ flow due to the lockdowns in many countries worldwide, says the report.

Such fraudulent sites offer bitcoin investment opportunities via a fake news story that acts as a bait, offering a link to a crypto investment scheme endorsed by a celebrity.

Once people submit their personal details to join the scheme, they’ll receive a call, asking them to deposit initially $250 and later to increase it, with fake promises of high yield returns. The same is done in other countries around the world, featuring local TV celebrities – for example in Sweden the well-known TV host Filip Hammar is commonly featured in these ads.

One of the testimonies featured in The Guardian’s investigation revealed that a 77-year-old grandmother from Queensland, Australia, was attracted by a bitcoin “investment opportunity” via a Facebook ad that featured Waleed Aly, a popular Australian TV host.

She initially received a call from a man with an English accent, and she initially deposited $5,000 worth in BTC through a crypto exchange. However, the scam escalated to the point that she managed to transfer up to $80,000 to the scammers.

Although all the investigated websites were registered through third-party companies that hide real owners’ identities, The Guardian found five names who had registered “hundreds” of bogus sites belonging to addresses based in Moscow. Also, similar celebrity-based investment scams were traced to Kyiv, Ukraine.

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It’s Not an Easy Task to Deal With Bitcoin Scam Ads, Say Social Media Platforms

The report details that both Google and Facebook have been struggling taking down all the scam ads ran through their platforms, and a spokeswoman from the Australian Securities and Investments Commission confirmed such difficulties:

In some cases, we’ve been able to trace these ads, the majority of which seem to be based overseas, despite creating the impression that they’re operating from Australia by using local addresses and phone numbers on their websites. Any data we have gathered we don’t make this public.

In an alert published on August 14, 2020, the UK National Cyber Security Centre say they’ve taken down over 300,000 sites linked to fake celebrity-endorsed investment schemes — including bitcoin schemes — also featuring British celebrities such as Richard Branson and Martin Lewis.

Do you think fake celebrity-endorsed bitcoin investment schemes will continue to increase in 2021? Let us know in the comments section below.

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