How to Avoid Bitcoin Scams
Before 2017, Bitcoin was mostly the province of cryptocurrency enthusiasts, with little mainstream recognition. But everything changed as prices skyrocketed. New investors jumped into the fray, eager to make their fast fortunes. Keeping with time-honored tradition in any booming market, scammers proliferated, equally keen to fleece neophyte, under-informed investors.
Cryptocurrency investment may seem like a free-for-all, but using a little caution can go a long way. Let’s review some of the most common bitcoin scams, as well as the steps you can take to avoid them.
Physical wallets are a popular, secure option for storing private keys – whether made of paper or a hardware wallet, like a USB stick, keeping keys offline adds an extra layer of security to investors’ holdings. Users should be careful to store their paper and hardware wallets in safe places, to eliminate the threat of theft. Additionally, investors should research hardware wallet providers to ensure safety and trustworthiness. Vendors hawking “pre-configured” wallets should be looked at especially carefully – a recent scam involved selling hardware wallets with a seed phrase on a scratch card that, while theoretically hidden, are actually compromised, allowing hackers access to funds as soon as the wallets are activated.
ICOs, or Initial Coin Offerings, have allowed companies to raise capital without taking VC money, which also generally comes with loss of autonomy. This take on crowd-sourcing is becoming increasingly prevalent, but scammers have also taken advantage of this popular system to separate investors from their holdings through fake websites and compromised wallets. It is vital to research the companies you are considering investing in – pick over the whitepaper with a fine tooth comb, and perform due diligence on the board of directors and other investors to determine a company’s validity.
Like stocks, cryptocurrencies are traded at exchanges. Unlike the stock market, however, regulatory oversight is relatively minimal with virtual coins. This landscape is changing, but as authorities play catch-up, it is important for investors to pay attention to some basics. Discounted coins, offered as incentives to join and trade on an exchange, are a major warning sign – deals that seem too good to be true probably are just that. Non-encrypted exchange websites, denoted by ‘http://’ instead of ‘https://’, should also be avoided to maximize asset security.
Bitcoin mining requires significant effort and resource investment, creating a high barrier to entry for the average person. Enterprising companies are offering users a chance to mine coins for a set rate, essentially renting existing mining infrastructure for personal use. But users should beware companies guaranteeing blanket returns on investment; coins become progressively more difficult to obtain as more are mined, leading to decreasing returns. Do your homework on each mining company – look for detailed information about operations, measure the level of transparency surrounding the company, and beware of ‘grand promises’.
Pyramid schemes (also called multi-level marketing schemes), which offer not only quick returns but also increasingly-extravagant perks in exchange for proportionally larger investments, are becoming more prominent in cryptocurrency. Assurances of too-good-to-be-true earnings usually are too-good-to-be-true. Stay away from companies promising the moon, even if you might get a new Apple Watch out of the deal. Read the websites thoroughly, but also look for outside sources that independently validate a company’s claims.
Doing the bare minimum as an investor can save you a world of regret. Solid research, coupled with a healthy dose of skepticism and an immersion in details, will help minimize mistakes and avoid fraud as you embark on your journey in cryptocurrency investment. Trust your gut, vet your options, and keep both feet firmly planted in reality – the more you do so, the better your chance of maximizing your earnings.