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Digital Fraud & How to protect Yourself: From ICOs to Bitcoin Scams

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Digital fraud continues to grow apace. More worryingly, the increasing variety and sophistication of the scams themselves has seen the number of people falling victim to scams growing just as fast. And we are no longer just talking about standard phishing. Today’s digital criminals are highly developed and extremely quick to jump on the latest online trends to take full advantage of every opportunity.

As dispute resolution specialists we are often the first port of call for clients who have found themselves in particularly difficult situations. Unsurprisingly more and more of these situations involve digital fraud and we wanted to use this opportunity to outline some of the fastest growing and most regular scams and offer a little advice as to how you can separate scams from genuine opportunities.

1. Binary options (also known as all-or-nothing options, digital options and fixed return options) trading

A binary option is basically a financial option in which the pay-off is either a fixed monetary amount or nothing at all. There are two types of binary option:

§ A ‘cash-or-nothing’ option which will pay a fixed amount of cash if the option expires in profit

§ An ‘asset-or-nothing’ option which will pay the value of the underlying security

It is the ‘or nothing’ that’s attracted fraudsters and there are now hundreds of trading platforms operating outside the regulated financial markets.

The scam is simple. A fake company owns a website that makes them look like a legitimate binary options broker and offers users access to a ‘live’ trading environment whilst promising accuracy, transparency and guarantees designed to settle the nerves of a would be investor. The investor then makes an initial deposit which they will see grow online at which point they’ll be asked to deposit more.

Eventually, despite the appearance of healthy growth, the website will suddenly fold taking all of your deposits with it. Alternatively if you have asked to withdraw your investment, you may be asked to top up your account to take your balance to the minimum required to make a withdrawal … at which point the website will fold taking all of your deposits with it.

If you fall victim to a binary options scam, resolution can be tricky. As these are fake companies, it’s very hard to find out who the owners are never mind begin the process of recovering your money. Waters are muddied further by the fact they will most likely be operating outside the UK (Israel has the dubious honour of housing the majority of these fraudsters) and operating in an area with little or no regulatory environment.

2. Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs)

The easiest way to explain it is that it’s a type of crowdfunding that has grown out of the current growth in popularity of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. However instead of providing a shareholding in return for an injection of capital, the company seeking investment will release a fixed number of its own crypto-tokens then sell those tokens to investors. Usually the investors will pay for these tokens in Bitcoin but some will accept the major international currencies.

There is a common misconception that an ICO is the same as an IPO (an Initial Public Offering) but there are actually two major differences:

§ In an IPO the shares purchased by an investor are representative of their voting power and their level of ownership. This isn’t always the case with an ICO and just having the company’s cryptocurrency doesn’t guarantee voting or management rights; they are just something to be exchanged for other currencies at a later date.

§ As IPOs are an integral part of the world’s trading exchanges, they are heavily regulated. As cryptocurrency crowdfunding is new it does not yet enjoy the same protection which means any involvement carries as much risk as opportunity for an investor.

As this is still a developing area and an area that’s creating a bit of a buzz in the tech market, digital fraudsters have been quick to take note and fake investment opportunities are springing up at an increasing rate. Experience of resolving disputes after the fact has taught us a few lessons as to how to tell a real opportunity from a scam so if you are attracted by an ICO we would urge you to:

§ Make sure your investment will provide all of the ownership and voting rights you want

§ Understand the risks and if you are uncomfortable making a significant investment via a platform that sits outside the usual market regulations, this may not be for you

§ Do your due diligence and make sure the company offering the ICO is a going concern, has a recognised legal entity and that the project you want to invest in has the required research and staffing behind it

§ Make sure any investment you make will be is deposited into an escrow wallet and that at least one of the keys to that wallet is held by a trusted third party

§ Ensure you have a complete and professionally drafted set of legal terms and conditions signed both by you and by the company you are investing in

§ Ask around or search the internet in case no one has ever heard of the company launching or there is no record anywhere of the company and/or the entrepreneurs behind it

§ Ask to see both the business plan and a record of any work-in-progress (WIP); a negative or evasive response should be treated as a red flag

3. Bitcoin scams

Having hit its highest ever price, Bitcoin is currently in greater demand than it has ever been which means criminals have never been as active in finding different ways to exploit it for their own gain.

As it is so attractive the range of Bitcoin scams has grown almost impinged and the rise and rise of social media has provided the perfect platform for scammers to promote every variation. The list of scams we have come into contact with includes:

§ Malware downloads

Hugely attractive Bitcoin transactions are used to persuade you to download damaging software designed to damage or gain access to your computer.

§ Bitcoin phishing ‘impersonators’

Criminals use the Bitcoin logo to gain a victim’s trust then, once that trust is established, a phishing website entices users to enter their private Bitcoin key to check it exists in their database then the key is then phished and the associated account is emptied.

§ Bitcoin-flipping

After you pay a joining fee to exchange bitcoins and double any investment you make within a very short time-frame you find your bitcoins have been simply stolen.

§ Bitcoin pyramid schemes (also known as Multi-Level Marketing or MLM Schemes)

A high level of return is promised for a low level investment but the size of the return is linked to you sending the links to your friends to get them to join too. However once a few hundred people have signed up paid the joining fee, the scheme folds.

§ Fake Cloud Mining Services

Bitcoin “miners” validate transactions in the blockchain using complicated mathematical equations in exchange for new bitcoins. Scammers promise the same service then collect the ‘mining fees’ without actually doing any mining. Initially they will probably pay out a few small amounts but these soon dry up as the scammer disappears with the funds.

§ Bitcoin Investment Schemes

Again these scams promise high levels of return in return for providing low levels of capital for ‘investors’ who purport to trade digital currency. Like cloud mining scams they tend to pay out a few small returns then the payments stop and the scammer absconds with everything their victims have invested.

§ Fake Exchange Scams

Bitcoin exchanges (marketplaces that trade Bitcoin for traditional currency or other cryptocurrencies) are legitimate but fake exchanges are springing up every day. The fake exchanges will ask users to deposit funds to purchase Bitcoin whilst enjoying lower transaction fees than regular exchanges. The only thing is as these exchanges aren’t real, they never realise the promised return.

§ Bitcoin Donation Scams

In the wake of recent events, this is without doubt the most cynical type of scam. More and more scammers are creating fake donation pages asking people to donate in bitcoin rather than via better policed platforms like PayPal.

So how do you protect yourself? With all of these scams there is a basic rule, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. If someone sends you a hugely attractive offer out of the blue, you need to immediately be on your guard.

Here are 4 basic rules we would urge you to follow:

§ Never trust any unsolicited email or social media post

§ Never click on any associated URL however high the potential return is claimed to be unless you know and trust the sender (and remember it’s now easy to replicate a social media account)

§ Never engage with or provide personal information in response to an email or social media account until you have checked to make sure the sender is 100% genuine.

§ Never enter into any type of financial transaction on the back of an email or a direct message on social media until you have completed all off your due diligence.

And if you do fall victim never try to resolve the situation on your own.

These may be criminals but they are highly sophisticated criminals and will be hidden behind layers of cleverly created camouflage. Always engage an experienced lawyer with a proven success record in resolving cross-border multi-jurisdictional disputes involving digital fraud. If you are going to recover lost funds, putting the right strategy in place immediately will be key to your success.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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Richard Howlett is a lawyer at Selachii Solicitors in London. He acts for businesses and individuals in a range of disputes that include complex litigation, fraud, bitcoin and cryptocurrency.




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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. beckyvn

    June 20, 2017 at 2:34 am

    I am is the victim of Bitcoin scam in just a week ago ! The story they (Scamers) make is : Bitcoin could be hacked ! As their explaination : When you send them a mount of BTC, they will hack it by the double (or 3,4… times) the amount by made many complicated techologys in transaction …
    Simple, If you send them 1 BTC, they will return you 5, 6 or even 10 BTCs !
    Greedy make us be blind. I lost 0,3 BTC for them.
    So, My lession is NEVER try to become a Smart ass in BTC. Don’t find any hacked method in the HACK FORUM / WEBSITE. They all scamers !
    Here are two websites which the Admin and fake members are scamers :
    1. http://www.crdforum.com
    2. http://hckleackedworld.com

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Altcoins

Why Would Anyone Have Faith In Tether?

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I don’t want to get sued for slander so let me explain the reasoning beyond today’s title. After all of the turmoil surrounding Tether on Monday, how can the price be anywhere near the $1 parity level with the US dollar?  After more than a year, how can anyone have confidence in Tether and their common law partners Bitfinex when, for example, Circle, backed be the highly respected Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs offers an alternative?  We should also mention that Circle is just one of many so called stable coins.

It isn’t hard to find a list. Exchanges are feverishly adding stable coins. Singapore based Houbi is adding Paxos Standard Token (PAX), True USD (TUSD), Circle (USDC) and Gemini (GUSD).  

When Stable Coins Cause Instability

Well, the evidence is mounting as the months move along that so called stable coins can have the power of creating anything but stability.  This week’s experience with Tether, Bitfinex and the price explosion of Bitcoin demonstrates that there are still dangers lurking. This is why trust is important.

Monday’s gyrations were not the first questionable moment for Tether.  The coin, which gains its intended stability by being tied on a one for one basis with the US dollar, has been the subject of questionable behavior all year.  

As far back as January trade sources were expressing concern the Tether was responsible for last December’s major price bubble in Bitcoin.  The frenzy over Bitcoin set off speculation across the entire crypto spectrum. But that was just the beginning.

In June Bloomberg reported on a paper by John Griffin, a finance professor at the University of Texas, that among other things claimed 60% of last year’s price move in Bitcoin was the result of manipulation surrounding Bitfinex. That directly implicates Tether.

Using algorithms to analyze the blockchain data, Griffin’s team found that purchases with Tether were timed following market downturns and result in sizable increases in Bitcoin prices. Less than 1% of hours with such heavy Tether transactions are associated with 50% of the meteoric rise in Bitcoin and 64% of other top cryptocurrencies.

These findings prompted the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission to step in with a series of subpoenas.

Tether’s coins had become a popular substitute for dollars on cryptocurrency exchanges worldwide, and for good reason. They are anonymous, closely tied to the value of the US dollar and can be used in exchange for Bitcoin, Ether or about 10 other cryptocurrencies.  Tether is closely associated with Bitfinex, with whom they share common shareholders and management.

Bitfinex has offices in Hong Kong but it is legally headquartered in the British Virgin Islands. In May they announced plans to move to Zug, Switzerland. Bitfinex has a sorted history of poor security, having lost nearly $100 million worth of Bitcoin from customer accounts. Moreover, while claiming to have total one for one US dollar backing for each Tether, real proof is absent.  

Further Evidence of Manipulation

Over the course of this year, as we have gathered digitally to witness the loss of nearly $600 billion in crypto value, everyone has been looking for the culprit. When I first read of some of the academic studies that blamed the advent of futures trading on the CBOE, I laughed. Honestly, I believed the real cause of the rise and fall of crypto were a well connected group of billionaires that together had the power to move markets.  

Well the folks at Chainalysis have just produced some surprising research results. Their Blockchain Intelligence Platform powers investigation software for some of  the world’s top institutions. These guys don’t do surveys, the have their hands on big data that is able to detect some interesting stuff.

Chainalysis released a new report last week showing that the so called Bitcoin whales are not responsible for price volatility. The study examined the 32 largest BTC wallets, which reportedly represent 1 million BTC, or around $6.3 billion. That is a pretty solid sample size.

The data revealed that the BTC whales are do not act in concert with one another. In fact not only are they a diverse group but about two thirds behave like longer term investors. Instead of being FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) types, on net they have traded against the heard buying on price weakness.

Putting The Pieces Together

The crypto world is bombarded with globally generated news on an hourly basis. But what does all of it mean anyway? Hopefully this article adds some perspective on what and who has been responsible for the direction of crypto prices over the past year.  As more of these weak players are identified and depleted of their business, real investors will have the confidence to return to the market.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock. 

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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4.4 stars on average, based on 113 rated postsJames Waggoner is a veteran Wall Street analyst and hedge fund manager who has spent the past few years researching the fintech possibilities of cryptocurrencies. He has a special passion for writing about the future of crypto.




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Bitcoin

Bitcoin Price Maintains Premium on Bitfinex in Wake of USDT Fallout

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Bitcoin resumed its range-bound trading on Wednesday, though the premium paid for BTC on exchanges like Bitfinex remained elevated following the large-scale cash-out of USDT. The short-term outlook remains mixed with prices showing little signs of making new highs.

BTC/USD Update

The bitcoin price reached a high of $6,794 on Bitfinex, compared with an average peak of $6,616 for the broader market, according to CoinMarketCap. At the time of writing, BTC was valued at $6,712 on Bitfinex, having declined 0.6% from the previous day. That gives bitcoin a market capitalization of around $114 billion, which amounts to 53.9% of the overall market.

BitMEX, a popular crypto derivatives platform, has emerged as the biggest market for BTC in recent days. As of Wednesday, the exchange processed more than 17% of the digital currency’s transactions via BTC/USD. The second largest market based on overall volume was won-based transactions on Bithumb.

Overall, BTC remains locked in a falling trendline since July, which represents the last major peak in values. Since reaching a high above $8,400 on July 24, bitcoin has been in a state of perpetual decline, with downside pressure keeping prices locked below $6,800. At the same time, the market has established firm support near the psychologically significant $6,000 level. At this point, there’s little reason to believe that level is in jeopardy.

The cryptocurrency market was little changed on Wednesday as volumes hovered near $12 billion. At press time, the total market cap was valued at $210.4 billion. The market peaked above $221 billion earlier in the week as trade volumes more than doubled.

Bitcoin’s Hefty Premium

The largest digital currency by market cap is still trading at a premium on exchanges like Bitfinex, which facilitate large volumes of USDT trades. On Monday, bitcoin’s quoted price on Bitfinex was roughly $900 higher than other exchanges as investors pulled out of USDT, a controversial stablecoin that is used to buy leading digital currencies such as BTC. Since Monday, Tether has been trading well below the one-for-one dollar peg it usually claims. At press time, USDT was worth less than $0.98.

Bitcoin’s volatility index has risen this week, though largely remains near 17-month lows. As of Tuesday, bitcoin’s 30-day volatility tracked had risen to 1.98%, according to bitvol.info. The index fell to a low of 1.56% earlier this month.

Declining volatility is a marker of maturity and stability in the market. However, it has also made upside momentum more difficult to sustain. That’s because falling volatility is commonly associated with declining trade volumes. Bitcoin’s daily turnover surged past $7 billion at the beginning of the week but has since fallen back to the low $4 billion range.

Disclaimer: The author owns bitcoin, Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies. He holds investment positions in the coins, but does not engage in short-term or day-trading.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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4.6 stars on average, based on 647 rated postsSam Bourgi is Chief Editor to Hacked.com, where he specializes in cryptocurrency, economics and the broader financial markets. Sam has nearly eight years of progressive experience as an analyst, writer and financial market commentator where he has contributed to the world's foremost newscasts.




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Analysis

Crypto Update: Sideways Drift in Cryptoland

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Not much has changed in the past 24 hours in the cryptocurrency segment, with most of the majors experiencing light trading activity and low volumes following Monday’s spike.

Ripple stayed in the center of attention as the third largest coin has been drifting higher together with Stellar, outperforming the broader market. Despite the gains, XRP also remained clearly in Monday’s range, and the technical setup continues to be shaky even concerning the strongest digital currencies.

While Tether continues to trade with a discount, leading to a slight premium in the price of cryptos on several exchanges, volatility is very low in the markets. Although most of the top coins are slightly lower today, the small moves mean that the total value of the market is still near the $210 billion level, and Ripple is edging closer to Ethereum in market cap yet again.

XRP/USDT, 4-Hour Chart Analysis

Ripple is holding on above the key $0.42-$0.46 zone thanks to its relative strength, but the coin is still on a short-term sell signal in our trend model, as it failed to show real momentum since the surge that was fueled by the dislocation in Tether’s market. XRP still faces strong resistance levels near $0.51, $0.54, and $0.57, and until a move above the spike high, a new short-term uptrend is not confirmed and traders should still not enter new positions.

BTC/USD, 4-Hour Chart Analysis

Bitcoin failed to rally back above the primary resistance level at $6500, even as the coin stabilized well north of the $6275 level and its pre-surge price zone. With that in mind, the coin remained on a short-term sell signal, with a test of the $6000 support still being likely.

While the long-term setup is still neutral, and the long-term support zone near $5850 is fairly safe currently, given the overwhelmingly bearish long-term outlook in the segment, we continue to be defensive towards Bitcoin as well. Further resistance levels are ahead at $6750 near $7000, while below $5850 the next major support zone is found between $5000 and $5100.

Ethereum Holds Just Above $200 as Litecoin and Dash Continue to Lag

ETH/USD, 4-Hour Chart Analysis

With the exception of Ripple and Stellar, altcoins are leaning bearish today, with Ethereum still being the most important laggard of the segment. While ETH is trading above $200, it remains in bearish technical setups on both time-frames, and the recent days confirmed the weakness of the second largest coin again.

Traders and investors shouldn’t enter positions here, as a move towards the $170 bear market low is still likely in the coming period, with strong support level as also found near $180 and $160 and with resistance ahead near $235 and $260.

Dash/USD, 4-Hour Chart Analysis

Dash has been showing weakness throughout this month, and the coin is now likely headed back towards the key $150 level. A move below primary support would warn of a test of the bear market low near $130, while an unlikely move above $170 would signal a trend change. For now, Dash remains on sell signals on both time-frames, and trades should stay away from the coin.

LTC/USD, 4-Hour Chart Analysis

While Litecoin experienced an encouraging bounce in September, it is among the weaker major coins again, and the $51 support level is back in the spotlight. A move below that level is still likely even after the spike above $56 on Monday, since sellers are clearly in control of the currency’s market.

The next major support zone is found near $44, with the bear market low above that at $47, while further resistance is ahead near $59 and $64.

Featured image from Shutterstock

Disclaimer:  The analyst owns cryptocurrencies. He holds investment positions in the coins, but doesn’t engage in short-term or day-trading, nor does he hold short positions on any of the coins.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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4.6 stars on average, based on 378 rated postsTrader and financial analyst, with 10 years of experience in the field. An expert in technical analysis and risk management, but also an avid practitioner of value investment and passive strategies, with a passion towards anything that is connected to the market.




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