Crypto Fraud: Everything to Know

By  Beluga Research October 3, 2023

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  • Crypto fraud refers to deceptive practices in the digital asset space, involving scams, Ponzi schemes and theft targeting investors and users
  • Cryptocurrencies offer transparency, immutability and resistance to censorship, but they also attract fraudsters who use tactics like phishing, Ponzi schemes and pump and dumps
  • It is difficult to trace fraudulent transactions due to the pseudonymous nature of cryptocurrencies and the lack of regulation
  • Disadvantages of cryptocurrency include lack of consumer protection, irreversible transactions, lack of transparency, market manipulation, hacking and security risks


Crypto fraud refers to deceptive practices in the digital asset space, involving scams, Ponzi schemes and theft targeting investors and users. The global and borderless nature of cryptocurrencies adds complexity to crypto fraud. Fraudsters can target victims from anywhere in the world, bypassing geographical boundaries. Moreover, the decentralized nature of cryptocurrencies means there's no central authority to which an investor can report fraudulent activities or seek recourse. This lack of regulation and centralized control makes it easier for fraudsters to carry out their schemes and avoid punishment.

A Brief History

Crypto fraud developed alongside cryptocurrencies. In 2009, Bitcoin, the first decentralized cryptocurrency, was introduced by Satoshi Nakamoto. While Bitcoin revolutionized finance, it also opened the door to fraudulent activities.

As cryptocurrencies gained traction, numerous altcoins emerged, creating opportunities for scammers. Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) became popular for fundraising but also became breeding grounds for fraud.

Crypto Fraud: Everything to Know

Phishing and Social Engineering. These are tactics used by fraudsters. Phishing involves fraudulent websites, emails or messages that mimic legitimate platforms to trick users into revealing sensitive information. Social engineering manipulates individuals to gain unauthorized access to their digital assets.

To protect against phishing, individuals should be cautious when clicking on links, verify website legitimacy and enable two-factor authentication. Staying informed about phishing techniques and reporting suspicious activity is crucial.

Ponzi Schemes and Investment Fraud. Ponzi schemes promise high returns and rely on new investors' funds to pay previous investors. Eventually, the scheme collapses, causing significant losses.

Investment fraud in crypto involves fake projects or tokens that promise substantial returns. Scammers use misleading tactics, false partnerships and exaggerated claims. Avoiding Ponzi schemes and investment fraud requires thorough research, verifying project legitimacy, and skepticism towards unrealistic promises.

Fake Exchanges and Wallets. Fake exchanges and wallets are risky for cryptocurrency users. Scammers create platforms that imitate legitimate ones, tricking users into depositing funds before disappearing.

To mitigate this risk, individuals should use reputable exchanges and wallets recommended by trusted sources. Verifying platform authenticity, checking user reviews and ensuring SSL encryption are essential steps.

Pump and Dump Schemes. These schemes involve inflating a cryptocurrency's price through false information to attract investors. Perpetrators sell their holdings at the peak, causing the price to plummet and leaving others with losses.

To avoid falling victim to pump and dump schemes, individuals should be cautious of sudden price spikes, conduct independent research and avoid impulsive decisions based on unsubstantiated claims.

Malware and Ransomware Attacks. Malware and ransomware attacks target individuals' devices to gain control over their crypto holdings. Fraudsters can steal private keys, passwords or seed phrases.

Protecting against malware and ransomware requires using reputable antivirus software, avoiding suspicious links or downloads, and regularly updating devices and applications.

Getting Started

To understand crypto fraud, it's important to know the basics of cryptocurrencies. Cryptocurrencies are digital or virtual currencies that use cryptography for security. They operate on decentralized networks called blockchains, which ensure transparency, immutability and security. Unlike traditional fiat currencies, cryptocurrencies are not issued or regulated by any central authority like a government or financial institution.

One of the main attractions of cryptocurrencies is their potential for significant financial gains. However, this also makes them a target for fraudsters who take advantage of the lack of regulation and oversight in the crypto space. Crypto fraudsters use various tactics to deceive individuals and steal their funds.

Unique Aspects

Crypto fraud has several unique aspects that set it apart from traditional financial fraud. Firstly, the pseudonymous nature of cryptocurrencies makes it difficult to trace fraudulent transactions. While blockchain technology provides transparency, it doesn't necessarily reveal the identities behind wallet addresses. This anonymity allows fraudsters to operate discreetly, making it challenging for law enforcement agencies to track them down.

Another unique aspect of crypto fraud is the prevalence of initial coin offering (ICO) scams. ICOs are fundraising events where new cryptocurrencies or tokens are sold to investors in exchange for established cryptocurrencies like bitcoin or ether. Legitimate ICOs have raised significant funds for innovative projects, but fraudulent ICOs have also become a major concern. These scams often promise unrealistic returns, misrepresent project capabilities or disappear after raising funds, leaving investors with worthless tokens.


  • Anonymity. Cryptocurrency fraudsters exploit the pseudonymous nature of blockchain transactions to hide their identities, making it difficult for law enforcement agencies to track them down.
  • Global Reach. Cryptocurrency fraud can be perpetrated from anywhere in the world, allowing scammers to target victims across borders due to the internet connecting people worldwide.
  • Lack of Regulation. The decentralized nature of cryptocurrencies and the absence of a central authority make it challenging to enforce regulations and prosecute fraudsters effectively.
  • High Potential for Profit. Cryptocurrency fraud schemes often promise high returns or quick profits, enticing individuals to fall for scams that seem too good to be true.
  • Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs). While legitimate ICOs provide fundraising opportunities for blockchain projects, fraudsters exploit them by launching fake ICOs to collect funds and disappear without delivering any product or service.
  • Pump and Dump Schemes. Fraudsters manipulate the price of low-cap cryptocurrencies by artificially inflating the price (pump) and then selling off their holdings (dump), leaving unsuspecting investors with worthless assets.
  • Phishing Attacks. Scammers use phishing techniques to trick individuals into revealing their private keys or login credentials, allowing them to gain unauthorized access to cryptocurrency wallets and steal funds.
  • Ponzi Schemes. Cryptocurrency Ponzi schemes promise high returns by using funds from new investors to pay off earlier investors. Eventually, the scheme collapses, leaving many participants with significant losses.


  • Lack of Consumer Protection. Cryptocurrency transactions offer limited or no consumer protection mechanisms, making it challenging for fraud victims to recover their lost funds.
  • Irreversible Transactions. Once a cryptocurrency transaction is confirmed on the blockchain, it is nearly impossible to reverse or recover the funds, making it attractive for fraudsters to exploit unsuspecting individuals.
  • Lack of Transparency. While blockchain provides transaction record transparency, it does not guarantee the transparency of individuals or organizations behind cryptocurrency projects, making it difficult for investors to assess legitimacy and credibility.
  • Market Manipulation. Cryptocurrency markets are relatively small and easily manipulated by large holders or coordinated groups of traders, creating opportunities for fraudsters to exploit investors.
  • Hacking and Security Risks. Cryptocurrencies are vulnerable to hacking and security breaches. Fraudsters exploit vulnerabilities in wallets, exchanges or smart contracts to gain unauthorized access to funds or manipulate transactions.
  • Lack of Understanding. Many individuals are drawn to the potential profits of cryptocurrencies without fully understanding the underlying technology or risks, making them more susceptible to fraud and scams.
  • Fake Exchanges and Wallets. Fraudsters create fake cryptocurrency platforms that mimic legitimate ones, causing unsuspecting users to deposit funds into these fake services and resulting in the loss of their assets.
  • Malware and Ransomware. Malicious software allows fraudsters to gain unauthorized access to cryptocurrency wallets or hold users' data hostage until a ransom is paid.