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!”
Nigeria’s Capital Markets Regulator to Create Framework for Cryptocurrency Regulation
Nigeria’s blockchain community and cryptocurrency exchanges could get a clear stance on the classification of cryptocurrencies from the country’s Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) before the end of the year.
A Framework for Cryptocurrency Regulation Is Coming
According to a report by Pulse, the regulatory institution is set to implement the roadmap for the fintech industry as it pertains to its capital markets. According to the roadmap, between the last quarter of this year and the first quarter of 2020, the SEC is expected to:
- Decide on its preferred classification of cryptocurrencies (either as commodities, securities or currency).
- Develop a framework for the regulation of Virtual Financial Assets (VFAs) and VFA Exchanges.
- Issue guidelines and standards for whitepapers and ICOs.
- Develop a framework for KYC and due diligence for cryptocurrencies, Virtual Financial Assets, tokens, and ICOs.
- Define clear classification for tokens based on their unique properties. They could be payment tokens, asset tokens, utility tokens or others.
The Acting Director-General of the SEC, Mary Uduk, revealed at a Capital Markets Committee briefing last month that the Working Group to drive the implementation of the roadmap would be chaired by Adeolu Bajomo, the Vice-President of the Fintech Association of Nigeria.
Cryptocurrencies as Commodities or Securities But Not as Currency
One of the recommendations that stands out in the roadmap, which was prepared by a committee comprised of officials from the regulatory agencies, the private sector, and a member of the blockchain community, is for the SEC to recognise cryptocurrencies as commodities or securities, and not as a currency. This classification is expected to have tax implications for investors.
This recommendation is in line with the central bank’s directive last year, which stated that “virtual currencies” were not a legal tender.
Cryptocurrencies have lacked a single, definite identity. For example, Germany is treating them as money and means of payment while the US uses the Howey test to decide whether a cryptocurrency is a security or not.
Crypto Adoption in Nigeria
Citigroup, a US investment firm, reported in January 2018 that Nigerians were the third-largest holders of bitcoin as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP). The use has ranged from trading to making fast, low-cost cross-border transactions, saving on the high fees taken by commercial banks and traditional money-transfer services.
Nigeria has a fast-growing young population with a significant chunk below the age of 35. But there is still a small number of people with access to the financial system. Less than 50 million people with bank accounts in a population of over 180 million. Blockchain applications could be a great way to onboard millions of underserved people into the financial system.
With the SEC expected to take responsibility for the regulation of cryptocurrencies in the country soon, we can foresee more scrutiny of Nigeria’s biggest crypto companies, which could lead to a more secure crypto trading ecosystem down the road.
Poor Financial Infrastructure? Why Ghanaians Need Crypto More Than Ever
Ghanaian investors continue to face difficulties as the Bank of Ghana (BoG) continues to probe fund managers for mishandling funds. Is it time for one of the fastest-growing economies to look at cryptoassets for financial freedom?
A Three-Year-Old Banking Crisis
The Ghanaian banking crisis started on August 14, 2017. The Bank of Ghana (BoG) revoked the licenses of UT Bank Ltd and Capital Bank Ltd and approved a Purchase and Assumption (P&A) transaction with GCB Bank Ltd that transferred all deposits and selected assets of the two banks after they were found to be insolvent.
The following year, the BoG subsequently revoked the universal banking licenses of five banks, including UniBank Ghana Limited, Construction Bank, Sovereign Bank, Royal Bank, and Beige Bank. Additionally, it issued a license to a newly created bank – Consolidated Bank Ghana Limited – which is wholly owned by the Government of Ghana.
After a tough time dealing with the aftermath of the shake-up in the banking sector, the BoG then proceeded with revoking the licenses of 23 insolvent savings and loans and finance house companies just weeks ago.
These happenings in the country’s financial sector have led to several issues in the world’s fastest-growing economy in 2019.
A Time to Consider Cryptoassets?
With the current turbulences in the financial ecosystem in Ghana, one may raise the question: “Is it time for Ghanaians to consider cryptoassets as investments with real asset ownership and transparency?”
Bitcoin and other decentralised cryptocurrencies are a natural fit in situations like these. For investors and consumers to escape the uncertainty of such a disorganized space, they will have to hold assets that they directly control.
Cryptocurrencies allow users to own their assets and give them independence from regulated, mainstream and established systems. With cryptoassets, no financial institution is responsible for the safekeeping of your funds and, therefore, cannot mishandle your funds.
Unlike the current situation where thousands of Ghanaians are not sure of the future of their funds due to the changes in the financial sector over the last three years, cryptocurrency users always have control of their funds and can access them at any time.
Imagine a pregnant woman in Kumasi, Ghana who kept her money in a savings and loans institution ahead of giving birth to cater for the hospital bills but cannot access her funds and is now stuck in the hospital because the institution has been closed down.
If she held bitcoin instead, she could pay in BTC or easily exchange it to cedi, to pay her bills without any issues.
Growing Interest in Cryptoassets in Ghana
Perhaps, the point made above has already been registered in the minds of many in the country who have shown interest in cryptocurrencies, especially bitcoin.
Currently, Ghana sits at number three on the list of countries on Google Trends for the search keyword “bitcoin” and Accra sits at number two for the keyword “buy bitcoin“.
With a more deliberate effort to push education and adoption – like the BlockTech Women Conference Accra 2019 held last week – the existing interest in cryptocurrencies could translate into growing adoption that could disrupt the current financial system in the West African nation.
Is Bitcoin Really A New ‘Safe Haven’ Asset?
The launch of the Bitcoin blockchain in 2008 was a low-key affair among a fringe group of cryptography enthusiasts. Just over a decade later, the pioneer cryptocurrency is a world-famous phenomenon with a market value of about $10,000 at press time.
This is certainly a remarkable turnaround, which only the most ardent early supporters could envision. That said, bitcoin as a currency has taken a life of its own and is gaining rather sophisticated market functions. One of these is the emergence of Bitcoin as a possible ‘safe haven’ asset. How ready is bitcoin to perform this unique function? Let’s find out.
Bitcoin currently has a solid market presence. Moreover, a great number of retailers in the market, especially online, accept bitcoin payments. This means that bitcoin users can freely operate and trade which is a great leap forward.
Trading is efficient and simple because of modern exchanges where you can trade for USD, trade BTC-EURX or any major fiat and crypto trading pairs. Generally, bitcoin is now a currency and an asset you can freely own and transact with ease. At the moment, there are over 250,000 bitcoin transactions each day across the world.
Incidentally, some of bitcoin’s intrinsic factors have made it play a unique market function. For one, bitcoin is a finite currency. Unlike fiat which is freely printed by Central Banks, there will only ever be 21 million bitcoin. Whilst this has placed a ceiling on mass adoption as a currency, the finite virtue has made it an attractive proposition as an asset.
The Case for Bitcoin as A Safe Haven Asset
For a historically volatile asset, bitcoin being discussed as a potential safe haven asset is remarkable. In years gone past, equity investors would regularly purchase gold during periods of market uncertainty to distribute risk. Gold is a traditional safe haven investment due to its scarcity and value. Can bitcoin take up such a role?
In the first few days of August 2019, stock markets went wild on fears of a USA-China trade war escalation. Simultaneously, bitcoin booked impressive gains of more than seven percent as opposed to the drops in the major stock markets. This is certainly not a fool-proof case for bitcoin as a safe asset. Regardless, crypto enthusiasts took the development with glee as part of a general argument for bitcoin’s status as a safe haven asset. The major arguments include:
- Bitcoin is effectively immune to geopolitical tensions like the trade wars.
- By virtue of decentralisation, bitcoin is independent of government monetary policy. This means that bitcoin prices are entirely market dependent. Accordingly, bitcoin (though significantly volatile) is attractive because it has no direct correlation to the volatility of other asset classes.
- Bitcoin’s scarcity gives it innate value, like rare metals. Satoshi Nakamoto capped bitcoin supply at 21 million.
Is it that simple though? The fact that bitcoin has a life of its own is an impressive aspect of its position as an asset class. However, the case for bitcoin as a safe haven asset is not as straightforward as it may seem.
Traditional safe haven investments are usually boring. Gold, for all the credibility it has, has generated an average annualised return of 0.32 percent over the last five years. As a matter of fact, its value most of the time is relatively consistent. This would be fitting for the name ‘safe haven’ as it remains safe in the midst of market volatility.
However, bitcoin, even in the most generous terms, would be a ‘colorful’ safe haven. Bitcoin may have a value trajectory unique from the regular stock markets. However, this does not take away bitcoin’s volatility issues. Therefore, investors are as motivated to diversify risk in a volatile stock market as they are to cash in on potential outsize gains.
Taking prices from August 2018 to August 2019, bitcoin has appreciated more than 100 percent. This is certainly a very impressive return from an investment perspective. However, it does little to lend credence to the general idea of a ‘safe haven’ asset.
Moreover, bitcoin still has to navigate a number of regulatory challenges with global financial entities because to truly gain the status of a mainstream ‘safe-haven’, regulators like the SEC have to be on board. Additionally, the stability of the coin against hard forks and security of secondary players like exchanges can add to its credibility.
Is It a Safe Haven Asset?
From the aforementioned, you can look at it both ways. For an investor looking to distribute risk and have an asset class whose volatility does not correlate to mainstream asset volatility, bitcoin can act as a safe haven investment. However, it fails to live up to the classic role of a safe haven like gold in the market. Regardless, this debate will only intensify as bitcoin matures and grows further.
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