South Africans should be wary of fake news articles which use prominent local and international figures to swindle people into signing up for cryptocurrency scams.
MyBroadband has discovered that a number of these articles are being carried in the sponsored sections of legitimate news sites including MSN, Yahoo, AOL, HuffPost, and Engadget.
These sites are owned by US media conglomerate Verizon Media, which also places these online advertisements.
The articles often use headlines which imply that major South African banks including Capitec and FNB are clashing with financially affluent persons over some or another financial scheme.
One article claimed that Pick ‘n Pay founder Raymond Ackerman had invested in a cryptocurrency scheme called Immediate Edge which could make anyone a millionaire within three to four months.
This particular article stated that Ackerman had been interviewed by eNCA presenters Uveka Rangappa and Dan Moyane over the scheme.
Another claimed that African Rainbow Minerals billionaire Patrice Motsepe had negotiated a multi-billion rand deal with an international platform by the name of Bitcoin Era to allow South Africans to invest.
The article goes on to claim that Motsepe had spoken to President Cyril Ramaphosa, his brother-in-law, and convinced him of the potential of the system.
Examples of headlines used included:
- “Capitec are trying to silence Raymond”
- “FNB are trying to destroy Pick ‘n Pay”
- “SARB are trying to silence Ackerman”
- “Patrice Motsepe told how to give wealth back to struggling South Africans”
Below are the two articles which we were served with repeatedly during multiple visits to these sites:
Spotting fake news
MyBroadband contacted Pick ‘n Pay and African Rainbow Mining regarding the veracity of the articles.
Pick ‘n Pay confirmed that all the articles we noted were indeed falsified and said that it had attempted on numerous occasions to get them removed without any success.
Mr Motsepe’s office could not be reached for comment, but by the time of publication, the article which named him had already been removed.
Even before attempting to confirm the legitimacy of the advertised schemes, there were several signs that the stories accompanying them were fake.
The major red flags we spotted were as follows:
Strange and unrelated domain names
Judging by its header, the article appears to be hosted on Fin24.com, but the address bar shows the URL is in fact www.melainzanai.com.
Two other instances of the same article were hosted on www.onlinemyquiz.com www.hearingaidagain.com.
The article on Patrice Motsepe, meanwhile, was located at investing-newspaper.com, despite an image of the Mirror’s header bar being included.
While the heading of the article stated that Capitec was trying to stop Ackerman, the article indicated it was Standard Bank who called to stop the interview from being aired.
At one point in the article, Ackerman is referred to as an “iconic cricketer”, while the two eNCA presenters are made out to be from Morning Live, which is in fact an SABC programme.
There was no shortage of incorrect grammar and plenty of signs that the articles may have been produced by bots.
Phrases like “Patrice Motsepe are done messing around” and “He have introduced” show that the names and pronouns may have been substituted and recycled for other target audiences.
Reeks of a scam
Both of the articles claimed the advertised platforms were automatic traders which use artificial intelligence to perform forex trades in cryptocurrency in order to make profits for customers.
This modus operandi might ring a bell with South Africans, as this was the case with the soon-to-be-liquidated Mirror Trading International (MTI).
MTI claimed to offer automated trading services through a unique bot which was powered by artificial intelligence and was yielding growth in members’ Bitcoin of 0.5% to 1.5% per day.
Following various reports on its activities, the Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA) issued a warning that people should withdraw their money from the scheme.
In late 2020 it collapsed, as warned, with the MTI leadership blaming the company’s CEO, Johann Steynberg, who had disappeared in December.
Spotting a scam
Determining whether Immediate Edge and Bitcoin Era are legitimate or scams of the MTI variety is not a simple matter of performing a Google Search, however.
Doing so will present you with numerous sites making various claims about the legitimacy or illegitimacy of the schemes, without providing much proof either way.
As was made evident in the case of MTI, the best guidance to follow would be that of the institutions which oversee the regulation of financial services.
In this regard, Immediate Edge was blacklisted by the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority in February 2020.
“We believe this firm has been providing financial services or products in the UK without our authorisation,” the FCA stated.
“Based upon information we hold, we believe it is carrying on regulated activities which require authorisation,” the FCA added.
It advised users to be “especially wary” of this “unauthorised firm”.
Belgium’s Financial Services and Markets Authority (FSMA), Spain’s Comisión Nacional del Mercado de Valores (CNMV) and the Financial Markets Authority (FMA) of New Zealand have also issued warnings against using Bitcoin Era.
The FSMA said the platforms were very aggressive in scamming people out of money.
“The scammers even try to convince victims to have their computer ‘taken over’ remotely in order to make certain transfers.”
“The scammers also try to convince victims to invest ever-increasing sums,” the FSMA said.
The fake ads problem
Online advertisements promoting scams and fraudulent products are nothing new.
A 2017 report from The New York Times revealed that, ironically, Google was serving fake news ads on fact-checking websites Snopes and PolitiFact.
An investigation by Which? in 2020 found that it was very easy to create and place ads for a fake business on Google.
However, Google offers a “Report an ad” page for submitting complaints on ads with false information.
MyBroadband looked for a mechanism to report the ads to Verizon Media, but could not find any tools for the public to report such instances.