Without a doubt, 2020 is the year that the crypto community experienced significant growth. Cryptocurrencies regained much of their lost value and reached new heights, thanks to their growing adoption.
The crypto industry continues to grow, and investors are laughing all the way to the bank. Along with all this good, there were a host of crypto scams that left investors with a bad taste in their mouths. But how did these crypto scams occur?
Cryptocurrency losses due to hacks on the DeFi platforms, theft, and fraud amounted to $1.8 billion within the first ten months of 2020, up from $4.52 billion in the entire previous year. The 2019 DeFi volume figure was negligible, but it now appears the DeFi platforms are lucrative for bitcoin thieves. With up to $98 million in losses, DeFi hacks made up 21% of the total crypto fraud in 2020, which is quite significant. But why so many crypto scams?
The USD value in DeFi cryptos and other cryptocurrencies has grown exponentially, attracting the attention of scammers, money launderers, and DeFi protocol hackers. Everyone, including those that don’t want to put in the hard work, wants a piece of the Bitcoin profits.
Scammers use different methods to get a piece of the crypto cake, but according to a report by CipherTrace, Ponzi schemes and investment scams are two of the main ways that investors lost cryptos in 2020.
Let’s have a detailed look at how crypto investors made losses in 2020, shall we?
1. Ponzi Schemes
Ponzi schemes have emerged as one of the favorite vehicles for crypto frauds, and it seems they are not going anywhere. Usually, the schemes promise investors quick significant returns with little or no risk.
The first few returns are made from recruits’ funds, serving as bait for more investment into the scheme. Most of the time, there is little or no business development in the background to support the pyramid of promised returns. Eventually, the schemes come tumbling down, and founders vanish into thin air with the investors’ money.
The classic crypto giveaway scam moved to YouTube from Twitter in 2020. In one instance, a hacker hijacked tens of YouTube accounts to broadcast a crypto giveaway falsely promising to double your earnings within a short period. The Ponzi scheme was broadcast live on YouTube, posing as a message from Bill Gates, the Microsoft CEO.
2. Exchange Hacks
Centralized exchanges provide a platform for the buying and selling of cryptocurrency. They act as middlemen, with various currencies for trading in a partially regulated environment, and are a favorite of newcomers in the bitcoin industry.
Unfortunately, centralized bitcoin exchanges come with a variety of risks. For starters, the funds deposited are entirely on the platform owners’ hands, which is somewhat risky.
In September 2020, hackers made away with a large haul of cryptocurrency worth $275 million from KuCoin, a popular platform, becoming one of the largest hacks. The cybercriminals used various methods such as diversifying into multiple currencies and mixers to avoid leaving a trail.
But the decentralized exchanges were not spared either.
Another high-profile bitcoin theft in 2020 involved the Cryptocurrency exchange Bisq where virtual currency worth $250,000 was lost. The hackers used a vulnerability introduced after a recent update to the network, allowing them to manipulate fallback addresses and send the funds to the wallets they controlled.
Earlier in the year, IOTA Foundation had to temporarily suspend operations following a cyberattack targeting the IOTA wallet app. The organization took steps to freeze the entire system within 25 minutes of reports that cryptos were being stolen from users’ wallets.
3. Social Media Crypto Scams
The #cryptocurrency tag on Twitter hosts who-is-who in the crypto industry, including tech engineers, investors, and programmers. But the social media platform is one of the several ways that crypto thieves used to scam people out of their hard-earned cash.
Hackers took control of the social media giant back-end referred to as the “God Mode” by hacking Twitter employees to access high-value accounts.
On July 15th, the verified accounts of famous personalities such as former President Barack Obama, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Kanye West were hacked and used in a fake crypto giveaway. The hackers promised $2000 worth of cryptocurrency for just $1000, hauling over $121k of stolen bitcoins in the process.
4. Sim Swapping
SIM swapping is a relatively new crypto scamming method which is also gaining a foothold. Scammers convince the mobile service provider to move a number to a new SIM card in a device they control to perpetrate crypto scams.
The method has become too familiar, especially in the cryptocurrency and Bitcoin industry. Usually, the hackers hope to access the victims’ cryptocurrency wallet through SMS sent to their phone for two-factor authentication.
If successful, scammers access your phone, cryptocurrency exchanges, bank accounts, and other sensitive personal information to wipe your crypto wallet dry. Recently, Harvard University Ph.D. students and professors highlighted the increased risk of SIM swaps in 2020 in a research paper. Incidentally, one of the authors fell victim to a SIM swap.
5. Trickery by the Phishing Websites and ICOs
2020 has had more than its fair share of phishing scams, and especially in the crypto industry. The main route is often through email, where the scammers guide people to particular websites to steal their credentials, which they use to access their wallets.
Just recently, scammers successfully tricked an astounding number of people into visiting a replicated version of the popular cryptocurrency Ripple (XRP) ledger to steal more than $280k.
Meanwhile, fake ICOs or the initial coin offering occur frequently and are a significant risk for bitcoin investors. Like an initial public offering, the initial coin offering’s main objective is to raise funds for the startup. But how do fake ICOs work?
Usually, fraudsters hype the project with fake ICO details to convince the investors. They use their website to promise heaven and earth to the users and then instruct them to make deposits in provided wallets. Sometime after the deposit, it becomes more apparent to the Investor that they were scammed.
One good example is Big Coin, which used a variety of masked campaigns. They hyped their fake cryptocurrency’s capabilities and technical progression to convince investors and steal $6 million.
With cryptocurrency, due diligence is of utmost importance before dipping headfirst into the industry. Bitcoin tends to attract attention, especially when transitioning into the bull market. Everybody wants a piece of it, and less experienced investors fail to spot the red flags, losing money in the process.
It is still a crypto jungle out there, with scammers and thieves using old tricks in the book such as Ponzi schemes, hacking, and phishing, as well as inventing new ways to shake you off of your hard-earned money. But if there’s anything that 2020 has taught us is that the internet space can be very profitable, but at the same time, very risky. Analysts are in consensus that only education can help reduce the risks of crypto scams. Take extra care when investing and accessing your cryptocurrency wallets, and the whole experience will be worth it.