Twenty-eight-year-old Nikhil (name changed), a crypto investor based out of Pune hopped on to several dating apps, but had no luck. But one night this year, he was messaged by “a beautiful woman” on Twitter, who claimed to be from Singapore. What followed was a match better than what any dating site could offer. The duo discussed crypto, football, pizza, and even exchanged WhatsApp numbers.
“…she would always talk about crypto, and that made me happy. She would discuss investments and potential airdrops, and I would love chatting with her,” Nikhil told indianexpress.com. However, video calls were strict no, as she would claim to be “uncomfortable”. About two weeks into their relationship, the woman sent him a link that looked like an NFT airdrop. But as soon as Nikhil clicked on it, his cryptocurrency wallet was hacked and NFTs worth Rs 10 lakh were stolen.
“I was devastated, she blocked my number, and her profile does not even exist on Twitter,” he said. Unfortunately, Nikhil is not alone. Many crypto investors are falling victim to ‘crypto romance scams’. Victims are lured with stories of romance and affection so that criminals can gain access to their crypto wallets. And Twitter seems to be the place where many of these cybercriminals first contact potential victims.
Neel Sinha, a crypto enthusiast, narrated a similar experience where scammers have tried to lure him. He termed these scams the ‘fake Asian girl crypto scam’. “First of all, you get a ‘Follow’ request from Asian women on Twitter. She talks about your crypto trading experience and proves you are doing the whole thing wrong. Then she will tell you she might have a better trading option,” he told indianexpress.com. Sinha noted that these scammers always talk about lucrative options, like a 60 per cent monthly return or even daily.
However, the whole catch is when they share a link. “If you click and authorised that transaction, there is no way to go back,” he added.
Garv Malik, a stand-up comedian and crypto influencer, receives at least one or two DMs a week. He claimed this happens whenever he tweets something on NFTs/crypto. “These fake profiles usually have Asian or Caucasian women, and an easy target for them are Indian men, who aren’t used to women messaging them first. The moment that happens, the happiness takes away the rationality part,” he pointed out.
Indianexpress.com has also seen some of these messages and fake crypto airdrops sent by profiles on Twitter. Many profiles use pictures of Asian women as a lure. And clearly, the rise of crypto-related scams is a global problem. Data shows that as the popularity of Bitcoin, Ethereum and other cryptocurrency continues to rise, so do the related online scams.
Crypto investors have lost more than $80 million in cryptocurrency investment scams since October, a 1000 per cent increase from the fall of 2019, according to US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) data. People between 20 and 39 were hit particularly hard, representing about 44 per cent of the reported losses, the FTC said.
So how can crypto enthusiasts stay safe? “What makes these scams more dangerous is that it is difficult to locate these wallets, so once you lose your cryptos, there is no way to retrieve them,” Sourajeet Majumder, a cyber security expert, explained.
In his view, it is best that users avoid clicking on any links, as they can also lead to fraudulent exchange sites. His advice to users is to “be smart with your wallet credentials and never share your seed phrase (recovery phrase) with anyone.” He also recommended users look out for fake giveaways, and that if a deal is too good to be true, it probably is a hoax. “Check whether an NFT website is secure or not, you can use tools like Trend Micro, which is available for free,” he noted.