Research traces fraudulent ads using celebrities and Bitcoin to Moscow

More countries are reportedly involved in a major global Bitcoin advertising fraud.

Investigation tracks fraudulent ads using celebrities and Bitcoin to Moscow

A major Bitcoin (BTC) publicity stunt involving unauthorised images of Australian celebrities apparently promoting fake investment schemes is reportedly coming from Russia, according to a new report.

Bitcoin’s fraudulent advertisements capitalising on Australian celebrities such as Dick Smith and Andrew Forrest are part of an organised global business using at least five Moscow addresses, a Guardian investigation said.

On 13 December, The Guardian published a report providing further details of a major Bitcoin ad scam that has been running on news websites since at least 2018. As reported earlier, the scam involved fake articles using unauthorised images of celebrities to advertise fraudulent investment schemes in cryptomime and steal money. The Guardian itself was a victim of the scam, as the news agency accidentally published some of these fraudulent advertisements.

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

The Guardian noted that there is other information suggesting that the fraud scheme may also have links to Ukraine, referring to a March 2020 report from the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, or OCCRP. The OCCRP investigation found a call centre running similar Bitcoin scams operating in Kiev.

In March 2020, a whistleblower revealed the existence of an encryption scheme operating in Ukraine. The 200-employee fraud scheme targeted mainly investors from Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, promoting false news articles using celebrities such as Gordon Ramsay, Hugh Jackman and Martin Lewis. The scheme would have raised US$70 million in 2019.

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