Online investment scams have been with us for decades in the form of “too good to be true” investment promises that were often called “HYIP” or High-Yield Investment Programs. While the scammers promise impossible returns on investment, the scams often involve a Ponzi-scheme component, where small investments are paid in hopes of attracting a large investment, which will not be.
Three recent developments have caused a new form of HYIP, a “Crypto Investment Scam” to become extremely popular and to generate billions of dollars in losses. First, traditional investment programs all had one of their worst years in recent history during and after the pandemic. If your investment funds are like mine, every single one of them lost money. Second, Bitcoin values from December 2019 to December 2022 have surged and fallen from lows around $6540 (December 16, 2019) to highs of $67,500 (November 8, 2021). Third, Artificial Intelligence is performing amazing and history-shattering computations.
For those who are facing retirement with a suddenly dwindling balance in their accounts, when someone tips them off on a “secret technology” that uses AI to provide guaranteed profits, the temptation can be irresistible. Especially if you happen to be romantically entangled with the person recommended the investment program.
According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (ic3.gov) Investment Scams have become the #2 financial fraud in America, more than doubling from 2020 to 2021 to eclipse Romance Scams for the first time. Or did they? What our research has found is that Crypto Investment Scams have a very high chance of being the end game of an online romance scam.
(Source: IC3.gov 2021 annual report)
DarkTower has been watching the websites used to make these crypto investments and has documented more than 25,000 such websites to date. On any given day, it is easy to find an additional 200 or more live crypto investment scam websites. How do we know they are scams? Primarily from the impossible returns being “guaranteed.”
Let’s look at a few:
TrustCryptoInvest[.]biz promises 100% Guaranteed high profit, with returns as high as 2500% after 1 hour for those investing larger amounts.
CrytoCoins[.]biz is more conservative, perhaps believing that 200% per hour is more credible.
Three-hour[.]club knows that big money requires longer term investments. They offer 5000% return, but only after 30 days.
Much more credible than SuperPayLtd[.]com who gives 5000% after 1 hour, but only if you invest at least $800.
TGPMInvestment[.]com tries to look like a professional website. No flashing graphics and no scrolling videos of rocketships and flying pigs. A respectable looking website offering 550% after 7 days.
BUT THEY ARE ALL SCAMS!
Several of the victims I’ve spoken with have explained to me that they “did their own research” to decide whether the site was real or not. Look back at the “TrustCryptoInvest” graphic. They pay a 30% commission to their affiliates. If you can convince people to sign up using their affiliate code, they take 30% of the initial investment as a referral commission. True, many of the sites are also scamming the affiliates. However, the promise of a 30% referral has created a cottage industry of scammers who create websites where they swear that the sites for which they serve as affiliates are paying great! Sites where they are NOT affiliates are often labeled on the same scammer sites as “not paying.” After all, in order to trust their referrals, they need to say some of the sites are scammers.
Websites such as skyHYIP[.]com or GCHYIPMonitor[.]com and others prominently list the “Paying” status of certain crypto-investment scam sites. If you click their links, you find that their affiliate code is tied to each of the URLs.
It really isn’t possible to “do your own research.” Anyone who is promising market-shattering returns in the cryptocurrency market is lying to you. Either they are on the front end of a Ponzi scheme and don’t know yet that they are about to be scammed, or they are being paid to refer people to the site and don’t care if you are about to be scammed. They are happy to lie for money.
You may be aware that some people are calling these scams “Pig Butchering” scams. 杀猪盘 (Shā zhū pán) is a Chinese term and refers to a particular version of such investment scams. These sites have a tragic component in that the people performing the scams are often the victims of labor trafficking. Many have been enslaved and told that they must scam a certain number of victims in order to earn their freedom. For an interesting background on these scams, and the tragic story of Hao Zhendong (郝振东) please see the article on CyberCrime & Doing Time “Please stop calling all Crypto Scams Pig Butchering!”
One feature of the Pig Butchering scams is that they often involve installing a “custom APK” or a “VIP version” of a crypto currency trading app on your cell phone. We recently investigated one such app from the website bikingidn[.]com. Once the application is installed on your mobile phone, it begins sending messages back to China using the “QQ” chat program, which is a popular application in China.