Investigation traces bitcoin scam involving celebrities to Moscow

Multiple countries are said to be involved in this major global bitcoin advertising scam.

A major Bitcoin (BTC) advertising scam involving unauthorised images of Australian celebrities, using them to promote a fake investment scheme, is said to have originated in Russia, according to a new report.

Fraudulent Bitcoin ads that used images of Australian Crypto Investor scam celebrities such as Dick Smith and Andrew Forrest are part of an organised global business using at least five addresses in Moscow, according to an investigation by The Guardian.

On 13 December, The Guardian published a report with more details about the major bitcoin advertising scam that has been running on news websites since at least 2018. As previously reported, the scam involved fake articles using unauthorised images of celebrities. This was used to promote fraudulent crypto investment schemes and steal money. The Guardian itself became a victim of this scam when the news agency accidentally placed some of these fraudulent ads.

According to the latest report, The Guardian Australia found five names that had registered hundreds of fake websites related to the scam, „all addresses in central Moscow“. The news agency reported that Google had launched an investigation because two of the email addresses were linked to Gmail accounts.

The Guardian said that further information suggested that the fraud scheme could also have links to Ukraine. It referred to a March 2020 report by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP). The OCCRP investigation found a call centre running similar bitcoin scams out of Kiev.

In March 2020, a whistleblower uncovered a crypto scam operating out of Ukraine. The 200-strong scam mainly targeted investors from Australia, New Zealand and the UK, promoting fake news articles featuring celebrities such as Gordon Ramsay, Hugh Jackman and Martin Lewis. The scam reportedly raised $70 million in 2019.