Bitcoin Scams: Everything to Know

By  Beluga Research September 28, 2023

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  • Bitcoin scams are fraudulent schemes that deceive people into sending bitcoin to scammers, resulting in financial loss
  • Bitcoin, a decentralized digital currency, is often targeted by scammers due to pseudonymous transactions and a lack of regulation
  • Scammers employ various tactics, such as phishing scams, Ponzi schemes, fake ICOs, malware attacks and social engineering to exploit bitcoin users
  • Certain unique aspects of bitcoin, including irreversible transactions and pseudonymity, make it difficult to trace scammers and recover funds


Bitcoin scams are fraudulent schemes that deceive people into sending bitcoin to scammers, resulting in financial loss. These scams can take various forms, such as Ponzi schemes, fake investment opportunities, phishing attacks, ransomware demands and social engineering tactics. Common examples include promising unrealistic returns on investments, impersonating trusted entities or requesting individuals to send bitcoin to a particular address under false pretenses.

A Brief History

Bitcoin scams have evolved alongside the bitcoin cryptocurrency, exploiting vulnerabilities and adapting to new technologies. In the early years, scams mainly targeted early adopters and enthusiasts of bitcoin. An example is the Mt. Gox incident in 2011, a prominent bitcoin exchange that was hacked, resulting in the loss of 850,000 bitcoins over time.

As Bitcoin gained popularity, scams became more sophisticated, and "Ponzi schemes," wherein early investors are paid with funds from new investors, became especially prevalent. For instance, BitConnect, a well-known Ponzi scheme from 2016 to 2018, promised high returns but collapsed, causing significant financial losses.

Bitcoin Scams: Everything to Know

  • Phishing Scams . Scammers deceive individuals in these scams by posing as reputable entities like exchanges or wallet providers. They send fraudulent emails or create fake websites to trick users into revealing sensitive information, which is then used to gain unauthorized access to bitcoin holdings.
  • Ponzi and Pyramid Schemes . High returns or referral bonuses are promised in these scams to lure people into investing bitcoin or recruiting others. However, the payouts rely on new participants, and when there are not enough, the scheme collapses, causing financial losses.
  • Fake ICOs and Investment Opportunities . In these scams, scammers launch fake "initial coin offerings" (ICOs) or investment opportunities, promising substantial returns. Unsuspecting investors then send bitcoin to these fraudulent projects, only to discover later that they were nonexistent or fraudulent.
  • Malware and Ransomware Attacks . In these attacks, scammers use malware and ransomware to gain unauthorized access to user devices, after which they can steal bitcoin wallets or encrypt files and demand a bitcoin ransom. Strong security measures like reputable antivirus software and regular updates help mitigate this risk.
  • Social Engineering and Impersonation . By impersonating influential figures in the cryptocurrency industry, scammers can manipulate individuals, gaining trust and deceiving victims into revealing sensitive information or transferring bitcoin. For this reason, it is crucial to verify requests and exercise caution before taking any action involving bitcoin transfers or sharing confidential information.

Getting Started

To understand bitcoin scams, it is important to also grasp the basics of bitcoin. Bitcoin is the first decentralized cryptocurrency, created in 2009. The cryptocurrency operates on a "blockchain," which is a distributed ledger that records transactions across a network of computers.

Bitcoin scams often target newcomers to the cryptocurrency space. One common scam is the "giveaway" or "free bitcoin" scam, wherein scammers promise significant amounts of bitcoin in exchange for a small payment. These scammers may impersonate well-known figures or use social media platforms to promote schemes. It is important to note that legitimate bitcoin transactions do not require upfront payments.

Phishing is another prevalent scam, wherein scammers send deceptive emails or create fake websites that mimic legitimate exchanges or wallets. They trick users into revealing private keys or login credentials, gaining unauthorized access to associated bitcoin. Thus, it is necessary for users to verify the authenticity of websites and emails before sharing sensitive information.

Unique Aspects

Bitcoin scams exploit certain unique aspects of cryptocurrencies. For example, bitcoin transactions are irreversible once confirmed and added to the blockchain, unlike traditional banking systems. Scammers convince victims to send bitcoin, promising high returns or exclusive investments, and once the bitcoin is sent, recovering the funds becomes nearly impossible.

Bitcoin transactions are also pseudonymous, making it difficult to trace scammers. While transactions are recorded on the blockchain, the identities of transacting parties are not directly linked to associated Bitcoin addresses. Therefore, scammers can use this anonymity to evade law enforcement.

The decentralized nature of Bitcoin presents challenges in combating scams. Without a central authority overseeing transactions, there is no regulatory body to monitor and prevent fraud. Scammers consistently exploit this lack of comprehensive regulations.


  • Decentralization . Bitcoin operates on a decentralized network, meaning it is not controlled by any central authority or government. This gives users more control over funds and reduces the risk of government interference or manipulation.
  • Security . Transactions involving bitcoin are secured through cryptographic algorithms, making it extremely difficult for hackers to compromise the network. The use of blockchain technology ensures transparent, immutable and fraud-resistant transactions.
  • Global Accessibility . Anyone with an internet connection can access bitcoin, regardless of location. This allows for seamless cross-border transactions and eliminates the need for slow and costly traditional banking systems.
  • Lower Transaction Fees . Bitcoin transactions often have lower fees compared to traditional payment methods. This is especially beneficial for international transactions, in which fees can be significant if traditional banking systems are utilized.
  • Potential for Profit . The price of bitcoin has significantly appreciated over the years, attracting investors looking to profit. Bitcoin's price volatility presents opportunities for traders and investors to generate substantial returns.


  • Volatility . Bitcoin is known for price volatility, with significant fluctuations occurring within short periods. Thus, users must be vigilant and carefully manage investments to avoid substantial financial losses.
  • Lack of Regulation . Due to a decentralized nature, Bitcoin operates outside of traditional regulatory frameworks. While this can be seen as an advantage, it also exposes users to risks such as scams, fraud and market manipulation.
  • Irreversibility of Transactions . Once a bitcoin transaction is confirmed on the blockchain, it cannot be reversed. Unlike traditional payment systems, chargebacks are not possible with bitcoin transactions, emphasizing the importance of verifying the legitimacy of recipients before sending funds.
  • Limited Acceptance . Although the acceptance of bitcoin as a form of payment has increased, it is still not as widely accepted as traditional fiat currencies. This limited acceptance restricts usability in daily transactions and hinders mainstream adoption.
  • Potential for Illegal Activities . The pseudonymous nature of bitcoin transactions raises concerns about associated use in illegal activities like money laundering and illicit transactions. While bitcoin itself is not inherently illegal, the decentralized nature can attract individuals seeking to engage in illicit activities.