New Delhi: “Wow this is so amazing I can’t believe Bitcoin mining is real I am glad to inform you all to invest and earn in Bitcoin mining company within 3 hours I invested 50k in 3 hours time I have earn profit of 500k…. Here is the proof. Hurry up and DM her @bianca_maria_fx.”
If a story like this appears on an Instagram account of even friends and acquaintances, chances are high that it is hacked by crypto scammers. Worse, the compromised account is being used to target unsuspecting victims without the knowledge of its user.
A casual glance is unlikely to give any hint of the scammers going about with their clandestine mission to cheat people who are looking to make a quick buck.
Fraudsters post messages like the one mentioned above with tagged accounts along with the photos of Instagram users to lend it a genuine look. At times, the caption looks like a screenshot of phone wallpaper. Messages from “Paypal” or “bank account” complete the fraud job.
When users click the tagged accounts, the profiles that pop out normally are that of women’s photos picked up from Google, along with those of fancy cars and posts claiming profits made through cryptocurrency.
Messages like “Hi there! Here’s what’s new Paypal balance is $10,010.07. The money just hit my PayyPal now, ain’t the caping, you’ll give her a try”, or “Y’all thought it was fake, well I just reinvest $1000 dollar quite long and got back $10,000 dollars in just 3 hours thank you so much” try to lure prospective crypto users.
Unsuspecting Instagram users will have no idea that such images are being posted through hacked profiles. Post after post, scammers put up screenshots and messages to show how individual PayPal balances have swelled or how Bitcoin mining is “real and legit”. “Y’all thought it was fake, well I just reinvest $1000 dollar quite long and got back $10,000 dollars in just 3 hours thank you so much” — messages like these will be visible to the unsuspecting victims.
In June, cyber-security company CloudSEK came out with a report on a high-profile scam in which Indian investors were looted of Rs 1,000 crore by fraudsters. The scam, CoinEgg, uses “fake domains and social media accounts to coax users into investing in fake exchanges”, it said.
A senior officer of the Delhi Police said scammers keep deleting accounts or changing the name of Instagram handles.
“Moreover, once a user is scammed, and by the time the complaint is received, the money has already been siphoned off. Cryptocurrency frauds have increased over years, especially since the Covid outbreak. With the promise of quick money, innocents are lured. In some cases, they also gain remote access to the user’s phone,” the officer said.
Things go murkier
In one crypto scam case, a 20-year-old Delhi college student received a call from an international number asking her to record a video and send it on that number via WhatsApp. She was blackmailed into mentioning that bitcoin mining is legit and profit making if she wanted her account to be restored.
Over the last one week, ThePrint came across at least seven such instances. The pattern was almost the same, with most messages having more or less the same language.
In one of these cases, a 25-year-old student based in Assam realised his account was scammed after a friend called him the next day after viewing a series of posts on crypto trading.
Things became murkier after his friend messaged him on Instagram asking about “investments”. That’s when the hacker impersonating the student began to message about it, as given below:
User 1 — “are you serious”
Hacker — “real and legit 100% sure bitcoin mining investment platform. I invest with a sum of $500 dollars in less than 3 hours. I got $5000 dollar as my profit. Are you interested?”
Hacker — “This is her page, follow her now and send her a message and start investing in bitcoin mining.”
User 1 — “how much did you invest”
Hacker — “$500 is 40,000 rupees”
The next day, the user sent a meme with a dialogue from the Bollywood movie ‘Phir Hera Feri’ — “25 din mai crorepati” — as a joke. The hacker replied: “ real and legit 100% sure”. It took the user a whole day to restore his Instagram account.
None of the above users filed an official police complaint. ThePrint reached out to a Meta spokesperson via email. This report will be updated when a response is received.
When ThePrint reached out for a statement, Assam Director General of Police (DGP) Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta said: “We have received some complaints on the matter and are looking into it.”
Multiple ways to fraud users
There have been other instances of cryptocurrency frauds on Instagram as well. For instance, some users also receive private messages on chat from strangers, mostly women.
The conversation starts normally but after the first few messages, it switches to crypto investments. One of the commonly used tricks is putting up investment links and manager’s handles on Instagram posts. Scammers pose as crypto trading experts when Instagram users connect them through direct messages.
While the names of well-known crypto exchanges like Binance are dropped to win the trust of users, fraudsters share the link of a fake crypto exchange posing as the legitimate company.
So, how can users avoid falling into the trap of scammers? One of the ways to identify fraudsters is to keep a tab on the language used by the hackers and impersonators while messaging on Instagram. A quick scan through these messages will show the repeated use of words written as “y’all”, “legit”. A lack of punctuation and grammar can flag users about a possible scammer at work.
“The trend of posting phising crypto links has been noticed across social media platforms. Users must change their passwords whenever they notice someone else’s account is hacked. Moreover, one should avoid clicking on any of these links put up on social media, or interacting with random accounts discussing crypto currency,” the above-mentioned senior Delhi Police officer said.
(Edited by Tony Rai)