Bitcoin is the oldest and most popular cryptocurrency in the world. However, as bitcoin adoption is on the rise so is the number of bitcoin scams. Unfortunately, many of these scams have infiltrated Africa in the past few years and are preying on unknowing users who want to make money online using bitcoin.
In this article, you will find out why all so-called bitcoin high yield investment plans (HYIPs) and MLM schemes that involve bitcoin are outright scams and how to identify these schemes so that you do not fall victim to them.
What Are Bitcoin HYIPs and Why Are They Scams?
HYIPs (high yield investment plans) promise their “investors” very high returns on their invested bitcoin. The claimed returns (which are sometimes “guaranteed”) can range from 1 percent per day up to 100 percent per month, or more.
HYIP operators usually claim that they invest their “investors” bitcoins in a sophisticated way to generate high returns. Of course, that is a complete lie. Instead, they only pay out when new money trickles in through the registration of new “investors”, which is exactly why all HYIPs have well-paying referral programs that are there to lure new members to the scheme and to keep existing members propagating it.
In other words, all bitcoin HYIPs are simple and straightforward Ponzi schemes where existing investors are paid with the money coming in from new investors until the scheme collapses and the operators disappear with the funds. Due to bitcoin’s pseudo-anonymity, disappearing with stolen funds is easier than ever. Hence, the sudden growth in this type of scam.
Legitimate cryptocurrency investment platforms, such as Iconomi, have annual management fees and transparently show their users what they are investing in and how their funds are performing. Also, users can pull out their invested funds at any time.
HYIPs, on the other hand, are always very secretive about their “investment” activities and it is hard to get your money out once you are in the scheme. Why? Because they are simply scams aimed at stealing their investors’ money once the pot has gotten big enough for the operators to exit.
What are Bitcoin MLM Schemes and why are they scams?
Bitcoin MLM (multi-level marketing) schemes take the popular element of network marketing (also known as direct selling) and leverage the popularity of bitcoin to create a scam.
It is very easy to identify a bitcoin MLM scam as they all have one thing in common. They do not sell a product or a service. Big companies that use multi-level marketing such as Herbalife, for example, have products that their direct sales people sell. When it comes to bitcoin MLM schemes there is no product and no service, which is why they can be so easily identified as just another pyramid scheme.
Members of bitcoin MLM schemes only really earn by recruiting new members, which is why you can find so many individuals posting referral links in Facebook groups promoting their “investment plan”, bitcoin doublers, (fake) cloud mining sites or MLM scheme.
The funds paid to their users are a small share of the new money from other participants. Those who join have to pay a fee. Then, the organisation pumps the amount into paying referrals. In the end, when the operators have earned enough the scheme collapses and they disappear with the money.
Alleged Bitcoin Scams in Africa
The recently reincarnated MMM is an alleged Ponzi scheme that has been around for decades. Its founder, Sergei Mavrodi, who ran MMM since the late 80s was found guilty by Russian courts in 2007 of defrauding 10 000 investors out of over $4 million in total and was sentenced to 4.5 years in prison. Unfortunately, after his release, Mavrodi relaunched MMM and targeted new markets, including Africa, for his scheme.
MMM came to South Africa in 2015 and has since spread to Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, and Zimbabwe. The organisation promises a 30 per cent return on investments but gives no indication of how the business actually intends to generate these returns other than “individuals helping each other”. This should ring alarm bells as it clearly means that MMM is a pyramid scheme. Well, that and the fact that the company’s owner has already been convicted for running a Ponzi scheme with the same name back in Russia. Many governments were quick enough to caution their citizens about the scheme, yet MMM is still up and running in countries like Kenya and Nigeria and preying on unknowing bitcoin newbies who want to invest their coins.
According to reports by MoneyWeb, MMM South Africa collapsed in 2016 and its operators have disappeared with their victims’ funds. MMM announced on its South African Facebook page that the RB “was an experiment, and, unfortunately, it failed”. Victims who were involved in the scam, lost all their invested bitcoin as their accounts online were frozen as is traditionally the case when scammers collapse their schemes.
Onecoin is an alleged pyramid scheme that is claiming to have its own blockchain and cryptocurrency. However, no proof that its blockchain exists has ever been presented, whereas every other blockchain has a blockchain explorer where transactions can be viewed. Furthermore, its “digital currency” is not listed on CoinMarketCap as it is widely believed not to exist at all.
At the moment, Onecoin is under investigation by law enforcement departments in several countries across the globe including the UK, Germany, and India, where arrests were made.. Even the central bank in Uganda has warned its citizens about OneCoin. Nonetheless, you will still find OneCoin “investors” send out promotional material with referral links to unknowing users online in the hope to make money by perpetuating the scheme.
MMM and OneCoin are two of the most prominent alleged bitcoin scams in Africa but there are much more. Many of them promise high returns from bitcoin cloud mining but are in reality just another form of Ponzi scheme.
How To Avoid Becoming Victim to a Bitcoin Scam
1. Ensure that company details and names of the owners are listed and real!
Most bitcoin scams will not list the company address nor have a team section that clearly outlines who runs the business and who the owners are. This is a clear red flag, so it should be the first thing to look out for.
If the company is legally registered and there are owners listed, go do a quick google search and see if these details are actually real. Fraudsters will happily provide false information in the hope that their victims do not conduct thorough research.
2. If the scheme “guarantees” you returns, it’s a scam!
If you come across a website or a system that guarantees you returns, it is almost certain to be a scam. There is always a risk when it comes to investing, so returns can never be guaranteed.
3. If the returns they state that they will generate for you are very high, that’s a red flag!
Despite the sometimes fast-increasing value of digital currencies, if you come across a scheme that tells you that it will double your bitcoin within a month or pay you 10 percent return per day, for example, you will have come across a scam with pretty much 100 percent certainty.
Just use common sense, how would a company be able to pay you 10 percent or even 1 percent returns per day other than by using the money from one investor and giving to the next as Ponzi schemes do? Bitcoin mining will definitely not make you 1 percent per day. That is mathematically impossible as we know how much the blockchain can pay out in rewards each day.
4. Read unbiased reviews online and reach out to users to hear about their experiences!
Another great way to check if an investment platform is legitimate is to find unbiased reviews and to reach out to users who have invested there. However, be wary of those who send you referral links or have them in their reviews as these opinions are not unbiased. Individuals who send you referral links when they give you their opinion are only looking to cash in on referral income, which is how participants in Ponzi schemes make money until the scheme collapses.
5. Check if the company is listed on badbitcoin.org!
The gentlemen who run the website badbitcoin.org provide an invaluable service to bitcoin novices who are tempted by high-returns promising investment schemes that are in reality just straightforward scams. The platform lists most known bitcoin scams and new sites are added on a regular basis.
6. The Golden Rule is: “If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is!”
Probably the easiest way to determine whether something is a scam or not is if it sounds too good to be true. If you are being guaranteed high returns that you can make passively online by “just” investing a few hundred dollars, you will almost certainly have come across a scam.
7. There are no legitimate bitcoin HYIPs or MLM schemes. They are all scams!
Finally, not falling for a bitcoin investment scheme in the form of a high yield investment plan or MLM/pyramid scheme is actually very easy because every single one that you come across online is a scam.
While there are many ways to earn bitcoin online, high yield investment plans and MLM schemes are not part of them and need to be avoided at all cost. If you invest in any of these schemes, you will very likely lose money sooner or later when their operators collapse the scheme and make an exit.
Unfortunately, African bitcoin Facebook groups are often full of individuals (usually with fake Facebook accounts) posting about “amazing” bitcoin investment opportunities that almost always include a referral link to a HYIP, MLM or a fake cloud mining scheme. So, keep your wits about yourself when looking for investment opportunities online and remember: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!”