All Russian to Me
A senior citizen whose restaurant equipment business took a hit from the COVID-19 pandemic invested his entire life savings into cryptocurrency — only to discover that the site he used was completely fake.
As NPR reports, 74-year-old Naum Lantsman decided to invest in crypto through a platform called SpireBit, which he found via an Instagram ad.
Soon after making an account, the Los Angeles-based businessman was contacted by a representative who gave the name Pavel and who, like Lantsman, spoke Russian and had grown up in the former Soviet Union.
His initial investment was $500, and within weeks, his SpireBit dashboard told him the money had nearly doubled. Soon after, Lantsman was convinced by Pavel to invest more and more, ultimately putting his entire life savings of $340,000 into the site.
It seemed as if his money was growing exponentially, but as Lantsman learned when trying to withdraw some of his money, it was all a ruse.
"When he logged on to SpireBit, he saw a very compelling fake platform that looked like money was being deposited," his son Daniel told NPR, "and that money was growing."
After Lantsman tried to withdraw some of his money, SpireBit sent over a document purporting to be from the British bank Barclay's — which the financial institution confirmed was forged — telling him he had to send two percent of his requested amount to the company "as a security measure" before the funds could be disbursed.
Lantsman wasn't the only one drawn in by the scam, either.
Aleksey Madan, a 68-year-old who also grew up in the former Soviet Union, had a remarkably similar story to Lantsman, down to the forged banking documents and the requests to send more money for so-called security reasons.
"They were always promising me they're going to send me money back," Madan told NPR. "But it's always after owing them some other amount."
House of Cards
When investigating the two claims, the public broadcaster found that not only were SpireBit's supposed founder and executives fake people with stock image profile photos on LinkedIn, but also that the company is not associated with any of the large crypto institutions it claims to work with.
What's more, SpireBit's purported parent company, the United Kingdom-based SBT Investments Limited, is not its owner at all.
After NPR began asking questions, the UK's Financial Conduct Authority issued a public warning about SpireBit, which it called an unauthorized firm that uses other established companies to make it "appear as if it is regulated."
"We strongly suggest you do not deal with [unauthorized] firms," the FCA's warning continued.
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