How to Spot a Crypto Scam (In-Depth Guide)

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In 1872, simply because the ferver from the California Gold Rush appeared to fade, two weathered prospectors wandered into San Francisco with a bag filled with diamonds.

Charles Tiffany of Tiffany & Co. himself had the diamonds verified, and shortly the 2 fortunate prospectors led a gaggle of eager traders out to their miraculous gemstone area south of Rock Springs, CO.

The traders could not imagine what they had been seeing. Diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires had been sprinkled all all through the territory, proper beneath their toes. The prospectors bought the land for $650,000 — about $14 million in 2022 {dollars} — and promptly disappeared.

That is when Clarence King, a Yale-educated geologist, identified that rubies and sapphires are by no means discovered alongside diamonds in nature — and the entire hoax unraveled. The “fortunate” prospectors had merely bought $20,000 price of gem stones in London and planted them in Colorado forward of the traders’ go to.

150 years later, the digital gold rush is rife with comparable scams. The SQUID crypto, the faux Banksy NFTs, and John McAfee’s pump-and-dump scheme are all sequels to The Nice Diamond Hoax of 1872.

Worse nonetheless, their victims aren’t hyper-wealthy traders who can in any other case get well. In 2021 alone, crypto scammers stole over $14 billion. And the variety of scams is growing.

For that purpose, anybody with even a passing curiosity in crypto ought to find out about how these scams work, spot them and most pertinently, keep away from them.

Let’s examine crypto scams.

The Quick Model

Crypto scams are in style with fraudsters because of the lack of federal authorized protections for cryptocurrency transactions and their irreversible nature.
A couple of examples of in style crypto scams embrace: hacked influencers, faux ICOs, faux dates, phishing scams, and pump and dumps. Hold studying to see a extra exhaustive listing.
Frequent pink flags that would point out your coping with a crypto rip-off embrace: guarantees of unrealistic returns, crude web sites, the dearth of an satisfactory whitepaper, restricted crew visibility, requests for personal keys, and free crypto giveaways.

What Is a Cryptocurrency Rip-off?

Crypto scams are available many kinds, however they sometimes contain tricking you into sending the scammer your crypto in change for nothing.

Crypto scammers might:

Trick you into paying crypto for a service they by no means present
Hijack a star’s social media account to solicit funds
Request a small cost in crypto to show that you just’re actual
Declare to be a “founder” and promote you crypto that does not exist
Promise fast riches or monetary freedom with out particulars

It is all complete bunk in fact. And we’ll break down some particular examples in a bit.

Why Do Scammers Love Crypto So A lot?

Scammers love dealing in crypto as a result of in contrast to bank card transactions, crypto transactions are irreversible. As soon as the scammer has your crypto, you’ve got just about misplaced it ceaselessly.

In contrast, when you’re scammed out of a bank card buy, you may report the fraud to your financial institution. After which you will have a excessive probability of getting your a refund.

“Cryptocurrency transactions don’t include authorized protections,” writes the Federal Commerce Fee (FTC) — and that is simply how the baddies prefer it.

One other key purpose scammers love transacting in crypto is because of its pseudo-anonymous nature. To obtain crypto, all it’s important to share is your public key — an extended string of upper- and lower-case letters and numbers. There is no seen identify, deal with or different identifiable info.

Granted, crypto is not fully nameless — we have seen authorities businesses subpoena the massive exchanges to trace down tax dodgers — however when you’re scammed, the possibilities of figuring out your scammer are near nil.

What Are Some Frequent Crypto Scams to Watch Out For?

Listed here are among the extra widespread crypto scams on the market. Additionally, discover that a lot of them are crypto-themed variations of old-fashioned scams.

The Hacked Influencer

Both faux influencer accounts or precise influencer accounts which have been hacked will submit the scammer’s public key and solicit donations or funds for brand new investing alternatives. Pretend Elon Musk accounts alone have stolen over $2 million in crypto this manner, in response to CNBC.

Pretend ICOs

Scammers claiming to be “founders” of the most popular new crypto will launch an ICO (preliminary coin providing, like an IPO for crypto), promote thousands and thousands price of their new coin after which merely run off with the money. Following the “rug pull,” the coin crashes to $0 and traders are left penniless.

The Pretend Date

Pretend courting profiles will solicit cryptocurrency funds for airline tickets, medical payments, and so on., then disappear when the funds are obtained.

Phishing Scams

Scammers posing as authorities businesses or customer support reps will ask to your account info. They then use that info to entry your personal keys and empty your accounts.

Pretend NFTs

Since you may “mint” and promote NFTs with out proving you are the copyright proprietor, NFT marketplaces are filled with fraudsters promoting nugatory fakes. A faux Banksy account bought $1 million price of NFTs earlier than revealing themselves as complete fraudsters.

NFT “Wash Buying and selling”

Wash buying and selling happens when the holder of an NFT sells it to themselves utilizing a separate pockets. They purchase and promote their very own NFT backwards and forwards to create the phantasm of demand. This artificially drives up costs and video games the search rankings on in style NFT marketplaces.


Scammers will ship menacing-sounding emails claiming to have possession of your illicit or delicate information and demand crypto funds for ransom.

Pump and Dump

It is a trendy tackle a Wall Avenue traditional. Fraudsters create a swirl of faux hype to “pump” the value of an funding approach larger, then “dump” their holdings on naive traders at a revenue.

The Pretend Trade

Scammers generally create a whole faux change to lure patrons in, take their money and disappear. These websites usually look authentic and even sound like offshoots of trusted exchanges (e.g., the rip-off web site CoinDesk Miners).

The Grasping Mine

By no means ever mine crypto with an organization or service you do not totally belief. Fraudulent mining operations have cropped up that may say you’ve got mined solely $10 as we speak if you’ve actually mined $100. The corporate or service pockets the $90 distinction.

This isn’t an all-inclusive listing, but it surely actually covers lots of the most typical scams and schemes you will see on the market.

What Are Some Early Warning Indicators of a Crypto Rip-off?

If you happen to’re vetting a possible whole lot or investing alternative, what are some early warning indicators that you’re a rip-off?

1. A Promise of Excessive Returns, Riches and Monetary Independence

Scammers know that if they will flip off the logical a part of the mind and excite the emotional half, they will trick extra folks into impulsively sending them crypto.

For that purpose, you will usually see scammers skip the info and analytics for obscure hyperbole.

“Prompt returns!”
“Assured 3x your funding!”
“Obtain monetary independence!”

These are all widespread lingo amongst scammers. However bona fide crypto creators do not make such claims.

2. Sketchy Web sites

What did SQUID and CoinDesk Miner have in widespread?

A sketchy web site in fact.

Since crypto rip-off websites must final only some weeks, days and even hours to serve their function, scammers sometimes do not rent a crack crew of web site designers to make them. They’re full of typos, damaged URLs and pretend endorsements from celebrities or respected traders.

SQUID put up a formidable façade with a pleasant UI, neat graphics and even a whitepaper, Nevertheless, the location was (reportedly) ridden with typos.

Squid Sport Cryptocurrency Web site — SCAM!

CoinDesk Miner’s try was a bit much less convincing, with a picture that would not have handed fifth-grade Photoshop:

Coindesk Miner Advertisement -- SCAM!
Coindesk Miner Commercial — SCAM!Supply: CoinDesk

Typically, if one thing appears low-rent or sketchy concerning the alternative, run for the hills.

3. A Complicated or Nonexistent Whitepaper

All legit cryptos may have a whitepaper written by the founder(s) explaining its function and design. Here is Bitcoin’s [PDF].

As hinted above within the case of SQUID, a faux crypto may have both no whitepaper in any respect or a obscure, complicated one.

If you happen to do not perceive it, do not put money into it. (That is only a good precept for traders to comply with for all investments.)

4. Faceless Crew and Management

One other key distinction between scammers and legit crypto founders is that the previous won’t ever reveal themselves.

If you happen to’re unable to determine a single human being behind the crypto you are about to put money into, that is a transparent indicator that it is a rip-off.

Equally, if you cannot discover the founders anyplace — not on LinkedIn, not in crypto media retailers — that is additionally a giant pink flag.

5. Asking for Your Personal Keys

Bear in mind, your personal key’s the crypto equal of your checking account’s username and passcode rolled into one. Share that, and your cash is pretty much as good as gone.

A authentic founder, dealer or change won’t ever ask to your personal key.

6. Free Crypto Giveaways

Any alternative that provides free crypto must be approached with excessive skepticism.

All that somebody must ship you crypto is your public key. And you’ll share this anytime with anybody with out worry of shedding your crypto. It is simply an deal with to which others can ship you crypto.

Nevertheless, somebody who’s making an attempt to tug a crypto rip-off will all the time ask for greater than that. To be able to ship you free crypto, a scammer might ask for:

Your private info
Your financial institution info
Your personal key

Or extra.

However they don’t want any of this to ship you crypto. All they want is your public key.

A scammer might even ask you to ship them a small quantity of cryptocurrency to “confirm your account,” which in fact is complete bologna.

On a happier observe, there are occasions when you may genuinely and safely rating free crypto. Coinbase for instance will credit score your account with free crypto only for taking micro-lessons about crypto.

Coinbase Learn and Earn
Coinbase’s Be taught and Earn

Founders of recent cryptos may give away small quantities of their creation on Reddit or different social media websites to advertise their upcoming ICO.

However one factor these free giveaways have in widespread is that they are virtually all the time in altcoins — not bitcoin or ethereum. There’s little or no purpose for a stranger to offer away the 2 hottest cryptocurrencies except they’ve a malevolent endgame.

What Are Some Helpful Instruments for Recognizing Scams?

Here is a set of detective instruments you need to use to determine a possible rip-off:

Google “[name of site or crypto] rip-off” — Typically, scams proceed to dupe traders even after they’re referred to as out. For that purpose, a fast Google search will reveal if the jig is already up.

Coinbase Notice of Crypto Scam
Coinbase Discover of Crypto Rip-off

Reverse Google picture search — Scammers sometimes steal graphics and inventory images from different, extra respected websites. Similar goes for his or her crew’s headshots. See if a reverse picture search exhibits the unique supply.
Reddit — Redditors are fairly good at sniffing out scams and warning the remainder of the crypto group in the event that they themselves fall prey. See if anybody’s discussing the potential rip-off on r/CryptoCurrency.
Your intestine intuition — As basic investing recommendation, it helps to show off all feelings (hope, pleasure, FOMO [fear of missing out]) and ask your self, “Does this appear legit?” Or higher but, “May I persuade another person that that is legit?” You probably have doubts, do not let hope override them; comply with your intestine.

What Ought to You Do if You’ve got Already Been the Sufferer of a Crypto Rip-off?

If you happen to’ve been the sufferer of a rip-off or fraud, there’s not an entire lot you are able to do apart from alert the authorities and notify the remainder of the group.

To assist struggle fraudsters, the FTC requests that you just report the rip-off (and even suspected rip-off) to:

The FTC at
The Commodity Futures Buying and selling Fee (CTFC) at
The Securities and Trade Fee (SEC) at
The crypto change you used for sending the cash
The FBI additionally desires to know. You’ll be able to file a report with the FBI at

Additionally, it is best to think about warning the group as an entire by exposing the crypto rip-off on or in a easy submit on Reddit.

If sufficient victims come ahead, the FBI would possibly examine, publish a bulletin warning different traders and even shut down the fraudsters. So when you might by no means get your a refund, you could save numerous different traders from shedding theirs.


The meteoric rise of cryptocurrency and the dearth of client safety surrounding it have created a fertile breeding floor for fraud. Scammers historically prey on hope and FOMO, however they’re getting smarter. Heck, even the BBC, Enterprise Insider and CNBC all fell for the SQUID rip-off.

That is why it (actually) pays to be vigilant as a crypto investor. If you happen to begin seeing diamonds and rubies beneath your toes, do not get excited — get skeptical.

For extra on safely put money into crypto, take a look at our information on How To Make investments In Cryptocurrency: A Newbie’s Information.

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