Fake Bitcoin adverts featuring celebrities have been the scourge of the internet over the last three years and have resulted in the loss of millions of dollars’ worth of cryptocurrency by victims. The practice has got so bad that popular British consumer magazine Which? has written about it on their website, calling it “one of the most prolific internet scams” they have ever seen and telling consumers what to look out for.
A scam do not part with any money . Police and Lawyers on the case https://t.co/NZkCrOgmi5
— Lord Sugar (@Lord_Sugar) May 23, 2018
Adverts Disguised as News
Which? states that the practice of using false celebrity endorsements to entice investors has been going on since late 2016 and is still as prolific as ever, partly because sites like AOL, MSN, and Yahoo as well as social media platforms like Facebook continue to host the scam adverts, despite complaints. The adverts tend to appear as a thumbnail in the sidebar of a website alongside other news items, using a picture of the celebrity with a click-bait headline that usually has nothing to do with Bitcoin.
Once clicked on, the unsuspecting visitor is taken to a convincing replica of a news outlet such as the BBC which contains an authentic-looking ‘news’ story that purports to detail the gains enjoyed by a celebrity who has backed a Bitcoin investment scheme, and then invites you to make the same gains. Simple, and, it seems, effective – one such advert featuring Endemol billionaire John de Mol netted the scammers $1.7 million in BTC. De Mol, incidentally, is suing Facebook for ignoring complaints and continuing to host the advert that featured his image, with de Mol complaining that he has suffered reputational damage. Kate Winslet too was alerted to her image being used in fake Bitcoin adverts two months ago.
Ad-cloaking Makes Detection Difficult
In the first half of 2019, 1,560 cases of cryptocurrency investment fraud were reported, with 212 being specifically celebrity-endorsed ones. Which spoke to Yahoo, Microsoft, and Facebook, all of whom said they were taking steps to prevent fraudulent advertising on their platforms, but that ‘ad-cloaking’ made it very difficult to pick out genuine adverts from fake ones.
A simple rule of thumb to take from this is to avoid ventures connected to celebrities. It’s highly likely that they have either been paid to front it or their image is being used without their knowledge, which is the case in these scenarios. Further, any celebrity who has genuinely made money on an investment has made their money because they got in early, so by the time it gets to you it’s too late.