In brief

  • Crypto scammers make most of their money from Ponzi and investment scams.
  • But since the COVID-19 crisis took hold, they’ve been feeling the pain.
  • That’s because their schemes don't adjust to the changing price of BTC.

It’s true that the novel coronavirus has created some new opportunities for crypto scammers. But when it comes to two of the biggest moneymakers—Ponzi schemes and investment schemes—the pandemic is killing their business.

The news comes by way of a report published by Chainalysis on Friday. According to the blockchain analytics firm, since early March, when COVID-19 began sweeping into the Western world, the weekly average amount collected from these types of scams dropped by 33%, from $4.2 million to just under $2.9 million. 

Those numbers seem to conflict with earlier reports that suggest COVID-19 is opening the door for scammers. If crypto scammers have so many new opportunities, why are they making less money?

According to Chainalysis, the answer is that the pandemic has mainly created an opportunity for a subcategory of scams that use email (such as phishing scams and blackmail scams), which never roped in a lot of money to begin with. 

In those schemes, scammers use the pandemic to create new stories to try and trick people into sending them money. One example is a scammer asking victims to donate crypto to help the CDC fight the pandemic. Another is a scammer claiming to have the disease and threatening to spread it to the victim’s family unless they send Bitcoin. But apparently, people aren’t falling for it. 

“It’s a scary development to see in a time of crisis, but the addresses associated with Covid-19-centered scams that we’ve investigated have received very little money, suggesting these ploys haven’t been very successful yet,” Chainalysis reachers said.

Even during the pandemic, the most profitable crypto scams continue to be investment scams and Ponzi schemes—not coronavirus editions of blackmail and phishing scams. Those two sub-categories make up the vast majority (95%) of all crypto scams, said the researchers. 

So why have their profits declined? Because scammers tend to ask for the same low, flat amount (like 0.2 BTC) from victims in all their campaigns, according to the report. Meanwhile, the price of Bitcoin fell sharply last month. It went from $8,500 at the beginning of March to $6,500 by the end of the month, according to Coinmarketcap. 

“We believe scammers are still receiving those same payments from roughly the same number of victims per month. The payments are just worth less now due to cryptocurrency price drops,” said Chainalysis. “Most of these scams have received the same or more value per day in their native coins since the crisis intensified in early March.”

So why blame coronavirus? Because in uncertain times, that’s often what investors do. They take funds out of volatile assets and move them into fiat, causing prices to fall. It just goes to show, scammers are feeling the pain like everyone else.