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21 May 2019

£27 million lost to Bitcoin and other investment scams

We explain what Bitcoin is, how to avoid cryptocurrency scams and how you can invest safely to stay ahead of the fraudsters

In the last financial year, almost £74,000 was lost every day to 'get rich quick' schemes and bogus online trading platforms, new figures show.

People are often conned into investing in foreign exchange (forex) and cryptocurrency scams on social media through fake celebrity endorsements, according to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and Action Fraud.

More than 1,800 reported losing money to investment and trading scams - triple the amount seen the year before.

The agencies revealed more than £27 million was lost in 2018-19 and victims lost on average £14,600 each.

Read more: how to spot a Bitcoin scam

What are cryptocurrencies?

Bitcoin is the most famous cryptocurrency, but there are more than 1,500 cryptocurrencies including other well-known ones such as Ethereum and Litecoin.

Cryptocurrencies are virtual peer-to-peer currencies that only exist online and are not controlled by a bank, treasury or country.

Cryptocurrencies are also anonymous, so are favoured by scammers as the transactions can't be traced back to one person.

Read more: find out how Bitcoin works

How do Bitcoin and forex investment scams work?

After luring people in with ads or posts on social media, scammers lead victims to professional looking websites where they're persuaded to invest in the bogus schemes.

Often the scammers will call the victim and, after a lengthy conversation, will talk them into the investment. Once the victim has invested, they might never see their money again.

Some scammers may string people along for longer than this.

The scammer will convince the victim the first investment went well and and will convince them to invest more money or get friends and family involved as well - all with the promise of even greater returns.

But eventually the scammer disappears - along with the victim's money.

The FCA is raising awareness of these trading scams and is urging people to be more sceptical about them, as part of its ScamSmart campaign.

Read more: a victim tells of her experience with a Bitcoin scam

How to avoid a cryptocurrency scam

You should always be wary of something which seems too good to be true and if you're contacted out of the blue about the investment.

The FCA has also come up with some tips to keep your money safe from cryptocurrency scammers:

1. Don't assume it's real

Even if the website looks very professional or you've seen an advert on social media, you shouldn't assume the investment is legitimate.

Scammers can also make convincing fake websites of well-known brands, which are virtually indistinguishable from the real thing.

Read more: how to spot a fake website

2. Stay in control

If you're thinking about an investment make sure you do your research properly.

If you're speaking to someone on the phone, tell them you'll call them back. Take your time to look into the company and don't just check the first result on Google.

You can also check the FCA's warning list to see if it's a potential scam.

It's also a good idea to speak to someone you trust before handing over money as well to see what they think.

3. Do the right checks

Companies providing regulated investments have to be registered with the FCA, so you can check the FCA register online to see if the firm is legitimate and whether there are any warnings about it.

Use the contact details on the register, not the details the firm gives you, to avoid 'clones'.

And if you do come across a dodgy investment scam, make sure you report the scam.

How to stop investment scams

Which? head of money, Gareth Shaw, said scam victims have little hope of justice, with research showing fewer than one in twenty scam cases reported to Action Fraud are solved.

He said: 'In order to fight this worsening crime, a more joined up approach is needed from the government, police and businesses whose services are exploited by fraudsters to prevent people from being scammed in the first place - and to act fast to recover their money when the worst happens.

'The banking industry must urgently step up its preparations to introduce confirmation of payee name checks, which could cut bank transfer fraud in half overnight.'

Read more: an investigation into the crazy world of cryptocurrency.