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Bitcoin Scam Using Unauthorized Celebrity Images in Ads Traced to Moscow: Report

A Guardian Australia investigation traced the source of a major crypto scam using Google ads to addresses in Moscow.

Dec 16, 2020 at 4:05 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 10:44 a.m. UTC

A fraudulent bitcoin advertising scheme that attracted thousand of victims with unauthorized celebrity images has been traced back to Russia, according to The Guardian.

  • An investigation from the Australian arm of the newspaper, published Sunday, traced the scam back to five names and addresses in Moscow, alleging the people had registered hundreds of websites used to promote the scam.
  • Run by what The Guardian called an "organized global business," the scheme uses images of Australian celebrities such as actor Chris Hemsworth, entrepreneur Dick Smith and Fortescue Metals Group CEO Andrew Forrest without permission and takes out "millions" of Google ads.
  • The ads first started running on news sites in 2018 or earlier, but during the coronavirus pandemic, the ads reportedly captured the attention of "tens of thousands" of Australians who have fallen for the scam.
  • When a victim clicks on an ad they are taken to a site featuring what claims to be a cryptocurrency investment scheme and asked to enter details including a telephone number and to invest around $250 initially.
  • The scammers typically cold-call people who provide the details, urging them to invest larger sums, per the report. They are later unable to get their purported investment back.
  • Guardian Australia said the scheme is so large it's difficult for Google to block the ads and for regulators in Australia to take action.
  • A spokeswoman for the Australian Securities and Investments Commission told the newspaper that tracing scammers outside of the country is difficult and it may look at whether digital platforms are doing enough to stop such schemes.

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