Blockchain Sleuthing Firm Calls Nigeria ‘Focal Point’ for Africa’s Crypto Scams

Israel-based blockchain analysis firm Whitestream has released a report uncovering four recent crypto scams originating in Lagos, Nigeria, going on to claim that “it seems that Lagos is a central focal point in Africa for investor scams of this kind.” 

Bitcoin and crypto use has been booming in Nigeria, but the dark side is the rise of scams. Whitestream’s report speculates that Nigeria’s Central Bank recently doubled down on cryptocurrency restrictions partly due to the rise of such scams.

Whitestream, which serves large institutions such as Israeli Ministry of Defense and global cybersecurity firm VERINT, discovered the scams on the social media platform Instagram. The Instagram accounts are designed to look like they’re from America or Europe, but Whitestream was able to track down that they actually originated from Nigeria. 

The scams, which target new crypto users, look very close to other widespread cryptocurrency scams. The scammers ask users to send bitcoin directly to them, promising profits, but instead run away with the money.

Facebook did not return a request for comment by press time.

‘Fake reality’

The Whitestream report highlights Instagram photos featuring a fake broker living a luxurious lifestyle from her lavish crypto earnings. 

The scammers draw in victims over chat, convincing them to send bitcoin, which the scammers will supposedly invest, promising high returns. But instead of investing the bitcoin as promised, they cash out. 

Blockchain Sleuthing Firm Calls Nigeria ‘Focal Point’ for Africa’s Crypto Scams
Whitestream discovered several similar scams using Instagram.

They then typically transfer the bitcoin to the Binance exchange to convert it into fiat currency, Whitestream’s analysis determined. 

Read more: New to Bitcoin? Stay Safe and Avoid These Common Scams

The scammer used a virtual private network (VPN), which allows people to pick an IP address, to make it look like they were from the U.S. But through deeper investigation, including analyzing the Bitcoin blockchain for transactions and detecting the mobile device that was used, Whitestream found the scam originated in Nigeria. Whitestream tracked down four similar Instagram scams in the fourth quarter of 2020. “It may be the same entity that is running all of these scams at the same time,” the report adds.

Instagram’s role

Altogether these scams are raking in tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of crypto a month, Whitestream determined. 

“The Instagram platform creates fake reality for young investors who are bored during the COVID-19 situation, and they are losing their savings because of these fake, imaginary accounts,” Levy told CoinDesk.

Read more: ‘Crypto Instagram’ Is Becoming a Thing, Scams and All

Whitestream CEO Itsik Levy argues that Instagram and its parent company, Facebook, have a duty to stop these scams. The accounts have already been flagged as scams – but there’s nowhere to turn to get them taken down. 

“The accounts are still active, and the scam is still attracting new people. It makes no sense,” Levy said.

Scams can’t easily be controlled, but nor can crypto. Cryptocurrency will stick around, the report argues, despite efforts, such as by the Nigeria Central Bank, to stamp it out: “It is not possible to block people or financial institutions from using digital currencies, as this is a natural global economical evolution.”