When one reads articles about a scam on the Internet or watches YouTube videos describing the horrifying situations that thousands of investors have experienced because of a scam, their minds are filled with a large set of mental images that represent a “virtual reality” of a scam. One creates within their inner mind hundreds or thousands of images that serve the purpose of keeping their mind and emotions prepared. As a result, they believe that they already know and can understand how a scam works.
However, when investigating through the point of view of Crypto-Psychology the real anatomy of a scam, things tend to not look so easily distinguishable or recognizable. A real-life scam, in general, is not as dramatic or as easy to detect as it may seem in the news. A scam doesn’t look exactly like a scam. One essential element in a scam is the need by the scammers to not be evident or obvious. Most scammers plan their malicious movements with a lot of preparation. They spend a lot of time thinking through every detail as they do not want to be easily detected. Time is an extremely crucial factor for them.
A scammer does not need to possess a highly elevated intellectual intelligence or impressive cognitive capabilities in order to manage little details necessary to keep the scam a secret for as long as possible. One of the little details many scammers take care of is the importance not to disappear immediately so that they can create a condition of permanent ambiguity in their victims! They stay relatively available for as much time as possible. Community members tend to want to believe in the scammer for some time, especially if they are readily available.
One of the most utilized tools for scamming is groups/ communities on Telegram. Scammers have it easy when they can practice their destructive behavior to some hundreds of thousands of people through this platform. A scammer can create a group, bring in thousands of enthusiasts as members and then persuade them to invest. After they have the investors’ money in their accounts, one will almost never see scammers follow the pattern of immediately deleting Telegram groups or shutting down webpages instantly. This might take time. Communities have to be mature when evaluating situations because most scammers do not give clear-cut signals as they are very careful to not provide any indication of wrongdoing or malicious intent.
To make it worse for the community — meaning the scam is that much more difficult to recognize — the scammers usually add some legitimate trustworthy admins in the Telegram group. Of course, these admins are victims too. Legitimate admins tend to gain community’s trust. This is one point that is in favor of the scammer. The scammer can then start moving away very little by little, and the community will not have strong doubts since the sincere trustworthy admins are there to make everybody feel safe. This can actually work for many months.
One more factor that plays a fatal role against the community is the tendency most communities have towards passiveness. Basically, more than 90% of community members are very passive in their attitude. The most active moment for them is the moment when they pay for their tokens. Initial investment is the only real active act for some people. After that, all becomes pure talk. Most community members think — or at least it looks like they think — that “being an active investor” means to be every day in the TG group chatting and giving random opinions and casual criticism.
This extreme passiveness helps the scammer because even in cases where there are plenty of subtle clues, passive members won’t move a finger. They will just wait. What kind of evidence is good enough to reasonably suspect that some project leaders may be cheating the entire community? What kind of behaviors or situations are sufficient for the members of the community to feel that it is time to act – as opposed to just talking or complaining about meaningless matters?
The following visible signs should be sufficient evidence. Paying attention to these signs can help properly detect a scam.
1: Gradually, the heads of the project appear less in public or become less accessible and never have clear answers about what they are doing.
2: Sometimes, it takes two, three or even four weeks before the ‘leaders’ no longer appear in the group.
3: There is never a solid delivery of the most important products that have been promised.
4: There is not tangible evidence that real developers are executing the development that has been promised.
5. Months pass and everything seems stagnated.
6. The identity of most, if not all, leaders is obscure or completely uncertain.
7. Information on the website is not enough to localize members of the team.
8. In the last weeks or months, huge amounts of the tokens have been dumped.
9. Admins seem not to know where the heads are or exactly who they are.
10. Good loyal admins always sound troubled when asked important questions because they do not actually know themselves what is happening.
11. It looks like admins do not have information and that they are victims.
In some cases, it could be that there are two or three regular community members who, for some incomprehensible reason, seem to feel bullish all the time. Even in days where many members of the community are discussing serious doubts and the tangible evidence that things couldn’t be fine, the always-bullish fellows are there saying “No problem!”, “Hodl” and all sorts of generic shilling quotes. Some of these hyper-bullish people are just naive investors who are not capable of understanding the basic problem. However, it is also important to keep an eye on these people as some might be the scammers themselves using different accounts to try to induce the community to passiveness.
It is very possible that the need to have conclusive evidence such as the destruction of the Telegram group, the shutdown of the webpages, or the complete disappearance of the heads of the organization make the community not realize in time that a scam is taking place, even if there were many small clues of wrong-doing or obscurity. The need for extremely radical evidence to which a community may have to be exposed in order to act against a potential scam may be the greatest ally for the pernicious scammer. Time is crucial.
Passiveness can give precious time to the scammer also. It is quite possible that the natural tendency of the members of the communities to passive behavior becomes the enemy of the community itself because this is a source of inactivity. Because of passiveness, everyone remains just ‘suffering’ and waiting for something to happen. It is very possible that in the community, day-by-day, people spend time saying, “Why doesn’t anyone do something?” instead of doing something.
WHAT CAN A COMMUNITY DO IF MEMBERS SUSPECT THE POSSIBILITY OF A SCAM
Before analyzing the options that one has when there is a serious and reasonable doubt to think that there is a scam case, it is important to take into account a fundamental fact. It is better not to believe that there is a scam if there is only one person or two people who suspect it. There is a possibility that the project is real and legitimate, and that some malicious person wants to harm the project by disseminating FUD. Communities must mature to differentiate FUD from a potentially serious and real indication of some crime. Care needs to be taken into account with FUD!
Communities that are experiencing even a slight reasonable suspicion that a scam, or something truly wrong, might be taking place, should never stay calm or quiet. The worst attitude is passiveness. Passiveness includes just appearing in the chat everyday and asking, “When moon?”, “When Binance”, or even questions like “Why no progress?”, “Why CEO is never here?” or “Is this project dead?”. Some of these questions might even sound heroically confrontational, brave and very proactive. They are not. These are just phrases. If you take this path, you are not doing any good for the community of for yourself.
First things first. If you are invested in a project, you probably should already have some information about the heads of the project and their profiles. You should even know about their previous jobs and experience. The project should have the identities of several of the most important leaders and team members displayed on their websites. You should have access to their respective LinkedIn profiles or the Twitter accounts of several of these leaders.
As a natural fact traditionally in Crypto, since the very Satoshi Nakamoto himself, the identity of some members is kept secret, such as the identity of developers who manage the private keys of some smart contracts, or the identity of some business developers. This is done to protect them from kidnappings or possible attacks on their family. But a project can not have 100% of their staff in permanent incognito condition. If you are an investor in a project that has all its team members protected by secret identity, there is a problem. You still do not know the basic rules of security.
In the case, however, that you had not done due diligence and you are already in a suspicious project, be careful. The first rule is “do not panic!”. Also, do not just start shooting accusations in the official channels of the project. Either you might be wrong, or you might be banned from the group. If you think you still have some chance for some justice and in the favor of the community, then be strategic. Go step by step.
Immediately create an investigation group. This is a second group where potential victims who want to talk can gather and talk in private! Do not invite to this second group people you do not trust! Think at least 10 times before adding a community member to this group. Choose one-by-one your new members cautiously and wisely. If one of the members you invite to your investigation group is allied with the enemy, your strategy will be doomed. Remember that scammers might have multiple accounts. Even some of the community members that seem empathetic towards community’s discontent may be the scammer.
First, one member of the community creates the new group and adds a couple of very trustworthy members. In the beginning, you start only with the three people that trust each other. At this level, your new group must be super-secret. Here, the first three members talk, check evidence and create strategies. Then, little by little, these three people choose new members for the new group until you have at least 10 members or more.
Gradually, these 10 people invite others to the second group. When you have around 50 people or more in the new group, you all have to become one spirit. Be sure that you all agree on the next steps. Everybody must be in agreement! Henceforth, you will try to gain attention from the rest of the community. Therefore, you need solid agreements with and an active attitude from everybody. Remember, agreement is important. There is always a chance that the first three guys were just hallucinating. So, always be prudent and try to reach agreement.
Next, if most of you are sure things are wrong and something smells very bad, then you all start posting messages in the official group and inviting more people to join the new group in order to investigate more and have high-scale agreements! Remember, this is an act of social war. The scammer might feel panic in this moment, because this would be the first time he/ she will realize something is going out of his/ her control. The scammer may become aggressive and ban many of you from the group or may change completely their behavior in order to re-gain trust.
Always discuss your strategies with other reasonable community members. Together, plan and calculate well every single one of your movements. Do not be impulsive; be strategic. The underlying strategy of this action model is based on “communication” and team power. If you are successful in moving a lot of people to the new group, then all of you together might explore second or third strategies like reporting the case to authorities, trying to locate the heads of the projects or even trying to hire a lawyer who can help. In the new group you can do this. In the main channel, this is impossible. Never forget that the scammers can destroy the main TG group at anytime.
It will not always be possible to solve a scam case. It will not always be possible to catch the thieves and recover investor funds. Many scammers manage to flee and investors cannot do anything, especially when investments are made in Crypto. Sometimes it is difficult to get evidence that demonstrates the responsibility or guilt of the heads of a project. However, it is necessary to develop individual and community strategies to act in case of a scam.
Those of us who love Crypto do not want scammers to continue to dirty this wonderful technology of Blockchain and cryptocurrencies with their criminal acts. Blockchain’s idiosyncrasy and value are about social communication, social value and social cooperation. This deep ethical perspective can also be applied at critical times, when unscrupulous individuals decide to harm us. Together, we are infinitely powerful.
What are other ways to detect and/ or expose crypto-scams?
Global Crypto News Editor and Writer.
OE-Blockchain researcher. B.S. Psychology, Licentiate in Clinical Psychology, Msc. Cognitive Sciences. President of HUMANA Consulting. Founder of COGNOSCITIVA Consulting.
10 years in OE and Market Research. Java, C++ developer. 22 years University Professor in Japan and Costa Rica.
Teachings: Psychology, Research Methodology, Neuroscience, Statistics, Japanese language. Crypto Psychology currently under development.