People have lost their entire life savings, retirement funds and even the money they saved for their kids’ college tuition. All because of fake bitcoin ads that plagued Facebook for most of 2018.
These ads made promises to their audience that were too good to be true. In exchange for small ‘investments’ of Bitcoin, many promised 2x or even 3x the returns every single day. Others promised that you would become a millionaire within a week. Some had much more common sense and offered reasonable returns on bitcoin investments made.
But the problem is this: all were fake. But the even scarier part? They worked.
Scammed with fake bitcoin ads
What strategies did these Facebook ads use to gain such a high level of trust that they successfully scammed people of their entire life savings?
Here’s what they did: they chose a familiar, trusted face – and put that face on their Facebook ads to make it look legitimate. One such face scammers used was of Martin Lewis.
Martin Lewis runs one of the most popular financial websites on the internet called moneysavingexpert.com. According to website analytics platform Similarweb, his website gets nearly 30 million visitors every month, all who go there to get financial advice from him. And since his advice is mainly geared towards people living in Britain, 90% of his readers are from the United Kingdom.
This makes Martin Lewis one of the most well-known and trusted financial experts among British people, whose advice is regularly followed by millions of people.
And since his credibility is so solid, scammers have used his face on hundreds of their fake Facebook bitcoin ads, making it look as though the ad was from the famed finance expert himself. And the Britons who fell for it and believed it was Martin in the ads, naturally gave away money (sometimes a lot of it), confident they would make t huge profits – only doing so because they thought they were taking the advice of the man whom they trusted.
Unfortunately, by the time these people found out that it was just a cleverly designed scam, it was all too late.
Understandably, these scams have outraged the real Martin Lewis himself as well, who sued Facebook for millions of dollars in order to compensate the victims who fell for fake bitcoin ads that had his face plastered on them.
Here’s what Martin had to say in an interview:
“People who say, ‘I’ve lost all my retirement funds, I don’t know how to live, I don’t know how to go on.’ People [are] crying their eyes out,” he explained. “From my perspective, these people say, ‘I only did this because I trusted Martin Lewis.’ You can see how I feel about it.”
And this is just a small part of the hundreds of thousands of scams that were floating around on Facebook.
Many scammers were creating fake Facebook profiles in the name of trusted brands such as the famed technology website TheVerge or bitcoin mining equipment manufacturer, Bitmain. Acting as the real companies themselves, these fake profiles announce fake giveaways in the comments section under genuine posts by the real companies. And in order to enter the giveaway, these fake profiles ask for a small ‘payment’.
Unsurprisingly, these scams worked as well. Many people fell for it.
And that’s not even the worst of it.
Other scammers were creating fake accounts in the name of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg themselves. The NY Times wrote an extremely eye-opening piece on how these fake accounts directly messaged vulnerable people, masquerading as Mark Zuckerberg and were able to successfully scam people out of their cash.
All in all, according to the NY Times, there are 60 million fake accounts currently operating on Facebook, many which are scamming people with false promises of Bitcoin riches and more using the strategies discussed above.
Facebook’s strategy for stopping fake bitcoin ads
The time period by which these bitcoin scam ads started increasing on Facebook was by the end of 2017. At that time, the price of the Bitcoin digital currency was inflating dizzyingly fast. And because of this, the rate at which new bitcoin scams appeared on Facebook increased. Facebook, frankly, at the time this was happening, simply had no idea what to do, other than ban bitcoin, and other crypto ads – indefinitely.
The ban took place at the end of January 2018. Everyone knew this wouldn’t be a permanent decision on Facebook’s part.
And sure enough, Facebook lifted the ban nearly six months later in June 2018, but with a complete policy overhaul so that bitcoin scams wouldn’t start appearing again.
First of all, only the ban on cryptocurrencies had been lifted while ICOs were still banned. And secondly, only pre-approved advertisers would be allowed to run crypto-related ads on Facebook.
This strategy worked to some extent for Facebook but was not entirely successful at eliminating fake bitcoin ads on its platform. Scammers had found a loophole which allowed them to run fake crypto ads without getting banned.
Why fake bitcoin ads still run on Facebook
Scammers simply stopped using the word ‘bitcoin’, ‘crypto’ and other related keywords in their ads, instead of opting in for phrases such as ‘exciting investment opportunity’, and other similar clickbait titles…
This meant Facebook’s ad screening algorithm didn’t detect the ads as crypto ads. But sure enough, once you clicked on it, the ad would take you to a webpage asking you to make a bitcoin ‘investment’.
So months after the initial ban, and even a revamped policy, Facebook is still plagued with bitcoin scam ads. And although Facebook has repeatedly vowed to take more effective steps to weed such ads out, we don’t know when such a time will come when the company gets closer at making their ad platform free of bitcoin scams.
It also doesn’t help that even though the hype for bitcoin has largely died down – and its price has fallen considerably from approx. 20,000 USD to 6000 USD – Bitcoin still remains the most popular cryptocurrency in the world.
All you can do is keep your eyes open when clicking an ad on Facebook that promises you ‘high returns’, ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunities’ and the chance to ‘become a millionaire’. Chances are if an ad sounds too good to be true, it actually is.