Welcome to the world of crypto-romance scams where you are woven with all sorts of believable stories and affection just to get your hands on your crypto wallets.
28-year-old Nikhil (name changed), a crypto investor based in Pune, has jumped on several dating apps but had no luck. But one night this year, he was messaged on Twitter by a “beautiful woman” who claimed to be from Singapore. What followed was better than any dating site could offer. The duo discussed crypto, football, pizza and even exchanged WhatsApp numbers.
“…she was always talking about cryptocurrencies and that made me happy. She would discuss investments and potential landings and I would like to have a chat with her,” Nikhil told indianexpress.com. However, video calls were a strict no as she would claim she was “uncomfortable”. About two weeks into their relationship, the woman sent him a message that looked like an NFT drop. But as soon as Nikhil clicked on it, his cryptocurrency wallet was hacked and NFTs worth Rs 10 lakh were stolen.
“I was devastated, she blocked my number and her profile doesn’t even exist on Twitter,” he said. Unfortunately, Nikhil is not alone. Many crypto investors fall victim to “crypto romance scams”. Victims are lured with stories of love and affection so that criminals can gain access to their crypto wallets. And Twitter seems to be where many of these cybercriminals first contact potential victims.
Neel Sinha, a crypto enthusiast, narrated a similar experience where fraudsters tried to lure him. He called these scams ‘fake Asian girl crypto scam’. “First you get a ‘Follow’ request on Twitter from Asian women. It talks about your cryptocurrency trading experience and proves that you are doing the whole thing wrong. Then she will tell you that she might have a better trading option,” he told indianexpress.com. Sinha noted that these scammers always talk about lucrative options like 60 percent monthly return or even daily.
However, the whole catch is when they share the link. “Once you click on a transaction and authorize it, there’s no way to go back,” he added.
Garv Malik, a stand-up comedian and crypto influencer, gets at least one or two DMs a week. He claimed that this happens whenever he tweets something on NFT / crypto. “These fake profiles usually have Asian or Caucasian women and are easy targets for Indian men who are not used to women messaging them first. The moment that happens, luck takes away some of the rationality,” he emphasized.
Many profiles use pictures of Asian women as bait. And it’s clear that the rise of crypto-related fraud is a global problem. Data shows that as the popularity of Bitcoin, Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies continues to grow, so do related online scams.
According to data from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), cryptocurrency investors have lost more than $80 million to cryptocurrency investment scams since October, a 1,000 percent increase over the fall of 2019. Those between the ages of 20 and 39 have been particularly hard hit, who they account for about 44 percent of reported losses, the FTC said.
So how can crypto enthusiasts stay safe? “What makes these scams more dangerous is that it is difficult to locate these wallets, so once you lose your cryptocurrencies, there is no way to get them back,” explained Sourajeet Majumder, a cybersecurity expert.
In his opinion, it is best for users to avoid clicking on any links as they may also lead to fraudulent exchange sites. His advice to users is: “Be smart with your wallet credentials and never share your seed phrase (recovery phrase) with anyone. He also advised users to be wary of fake gifts and that if a deal is too good to be true, it’s probably a scam. “Check whether NFT websites are safe or not, you can use tools like Trend Micro which are available for free,” he noted.