Facebook users are being targeted by fraudsters through fake news featuring a major Maltese businessman, aiming to lure users into ‘investing’ hundreds of euros into a fictitious bitcoin scheme.

It is the second such attempt. Last January, scammers were making use of fake reports in a bid to con people into believing that the Prime Minister was endorsing the same scheme.

This time the face being used is that of hotel industry magnate Alfred Pisani, chief of the Corinthia Group. He features in a sponsored story in Maltese by Basic Daily.

Basic Daily might not at first glance look suspicious due to various references to current affairs programmes and presenters, complete with the logos of Maltese television stations including TVM.

In the comments section at the bottom it includes fake Facebook profiles to give the impression that this is all legitimate.

However, the ultimate aim is to con users into believing that by investing at least €250 in the Bitcoin Future scheme, they might “become a millionaire in just three of four months”.

Contacted by Times of Malta, a Corinthia Group spokesman confirmed they were already aware of this fake news report, which had surfaced on social media in recent days. The case, he added, had been reported to the “relevant parties” and it was being followed-up.

If it looks too good to be true, it is not true

By the time of writing no official public warning had been issued by the Malta Financial Services Authority, although a spokesman for the regulator did confirm that this was a scam. 

“If it looks too good to be true, it is not true,” he said when asked for general advice to Facebook users who might encounter such fraudulent reports.

“Promises of unrealistic gains without risks should immediately trigger the alarm bells,” he added.

However, when in doubt the public should not hesitate to call at the MFSA to enquire whether the provider was registered or not.

The spokesman added that the authority did issue public warnings from time to time but each case was treated on its own merits.

The MFSA spokesman said such reports were handed over to the enforcement team for further investigation in collaboration with other authorities including the police. However, cracking down on these sites might take some time as they were not usually registered in Malta, he added. 

Apart from making use of fictitious interviews with reputable figures such as Mr Pisani, to deceive readers into believing that these people were endorsing the scheme, those behind this type of fraud also try to make themselves credible through other fake endorsements from global figures such as Virgin Group founder Richard Branson and Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

They also try to give the impression that ordinary individuals, like the fictitious Alexander Busuttil, have become rich overnight merely by ‘investing’ €250.

The claim is backed up with a snapshot of a fake Bank of Valletta statement saying that on August 19, a €4,000 deposit was made by an entity called Bitcoin Trading Platform.

Though somebody with basic knowledge of the financial services industry would immediately conclude this is a scam, industry sources expressed concern that people of a certain age, or who were financially illiterate, might be at risk of losing hundreds of euros.

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