Celebrity BTC scam ads tracked back to Moscow

A prolific BTC scam operating in Australia has been traced to fraudsters in Russia, following an investigation by The Guardian Australia.

The cryptocurrency ad scam relies on fake testimonials from some of Australia’s best known celebrities, promoting the merits of fake digital currency investment schemes. According to investigators, the ads relying on the use of local celebrities like Dick Smith and Andrew Forrest are part of a global network of similar scams, operating out of a number of addresses in Moscow.

The investigation published recently reports the ad scam to have been running since at least 2018, targeting news websites in the country to harvest unsuspecting victims. Fake advertorials showing pictures of celebrities and claiming to have their endorsement have been run against several news platforms, including the Guardian, which accidentally ran a number of the scam ads on its own site.

The Guardian investigation uncovered the names of five individuals linked to the scams, with addresses in central Moscow. Two of the email addresses linked to the attackers are Gmail addresses, with Google now having launched its own investigation into the operation.

Other information suggests possible links to Ukraine, particularly a report published by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, which found similar operations working out of a call center in Kiev.

The Ukrainian scam was found to be run by some 200 employees, targeting investors in the U.K., Australia and New Zealand with fake digital currency endorsements from the likes of Martin Lewis, Gordon Ramsay and Hugh Jackman. According to their findings, the scheme pulled in $70 million in 2019.

The links to Moscow introduce another dimension for regulators investigating these types of frauds, which have continued to affect victims in Australia and beyond throughout 2020.

With the success of these schemes still uninterrupted, despite the best efforts of law enforcement, it serves as a reminder to would-be investors to exercise caution when investing in digital currency schemes.

Follow CoinGeek’s Crypto Crime Cartel series, which delves into the stream of groups—from BitMEX to Binance, Bitcoin.com, BlockstreamShapeShift and Ethereum—who have co-opted the digital asset revolution and turned the industry into a minefield for naïve (and even experienced) players in the market.

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