France’s stock market regulator Autorité des Marchés Financiers (AMF) said the scam has been active since the start of 2018, during the end of the cryptomarket’s bull run. The scam relied on fake ads for Bitcoin investment opportunities, and was ‘even more sophisticated’ than the wave of Forex and binary option scams that made French news earlier this year.
France is yet to implement stricter regulations on cryptocurrencies. However, in September of this year, Macron’s government introduced a regulatory framework for Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs), and according to recent reports is now looking to expand this framework to the cryptocurrency markets.
Le Parisen also published the story of a 65-years-old retiree who lost over €43,000 to the scammers. After contacting the phone number on the ad, Ernest (name changed) was redirected to “Mr. Vasseur”, an imposter who claimed to be a broker, who talked the retiree into investing €500 into Bitcoin.
“He asked me for my address, a copy of my ID and opened an account on his website,” recalls Ernest. “This showcase was extremely well done. I could see the evolution of my investment.”
A week later, Ernest’s ‘investment’ yielded him a return of €180. “We had regular calls, he was always punctual. I felt more and more secure”. Over the course of the next few weeks, Ernest was beguiled into putting more money into the fake investment, culminating with €15,000 to ‘honor taxes’ for a financial transaction that was declined. Ernest complied, and ‘Mr. Vasseur’ disappeared.
Return of the Scams
According to Brian O’Hagan, marketing director at cryptocurrency broker Coinhouse, more than 200 fraudulent websites have been identified to date. O’Hagan also highlighted that the Belgian government expects crypto scams to exceed €100 million. “It is a scourge,” said the marketing director. “In France, a country five times more populous [than Belgium], there are fears scams will result in damages ranging up to the hundreds of millions of euros.”
“Bitcoin is very complex to understand, very technical,” said Helene Feron-Poloni, a lawyer specializing in Heritage issues. “Investors do not necessarily understand what is happening but simply say: this time, I do not miss the opportunity to earn money”
The lawyer warned people to be more wary of investment opportunities -- especially those which they do not fully understand. “You think this will never happen to you? That you will never fall for such a scam? Think again. No one is immune. These scammers use manipulation techniques of a formidable efficiency.”