Crypto-trading scammers demand thousands of dollars in fake “profit tax” to unlock victims’ accounts




“The CryptoRom scam is romance-centered financial fraud that relies heavily on social engineering at almost every stage,” said Jagadeesh Chandraiah, senior threat researcher at Sophos. “The scammers attract targets through fake profiles on legitimate dating sites and then then try to persuade the target to install and invest in a fake cryptocurrency trading app. The apps are usually installed as web clips and are designed to closely resemble legitimate, trusted apps.

“According to victims of this scam who contacted us after our earlier articles, the 20% ‘profit tax’ is only mentioned when they try to withdraw their funds or close the account. Victims who struggle to pay the tax are offered a loan. There are even fake websites that promise to help people recover their funds if they’ve been scammed. In short, whichever path the increasingly desperate victims go down to try to get their money back, the scammers are there waiting for them. People tell us they have lost a lifetime’s savings or their retirement funds to the scam.” 

New Technical Features

Sophos’ research also details new technical aspects of the CryptoRom operation. For instance, according to Sophos, the fraudsters are misusing Apple’s TestFlight feature that allows for a limited group of people to install and trial a new iOS app and go through a less stringent Apple review process. During 2021, Sophos researchers observed CryptoRom misusing the iOS Super Signature and Apple’s Enterprise Program for the same purpose.

Sophos researchers also found that all the CryptoRom-related websites used by the fraudsters had very similar backend structure and content and that only the brand names, icons and URLs were different. Sophos believes this may enable the scammers to quickly change the websites they use for the scams when one of them is detected and shut down.

Staying Safe – An Industry Issue

“It is deeply worrying that people continue to fall for these criminal schemes, particularly since the use of foreign transactions and unregulated cryptocurrency markets mean that victims have no legal protection for the funds they invest,” said Chandraiah. “This is an industry wide issue that is not going away. We need a collective response that includes traceability of cryptocurrency transactions, warning users about these scams and quickly detecting and removing the fake profiles that enable this kind of fraud.”

(For more information, please read the article “CryptoRom Swindlers Continue to Target Vulnerable iPhone/Android Users.” Sophos has published previous research into CryptoRom and other crypto-trading and financial fraud. Sophos has also published reports on other cyberthreats facing consumers and home users, including “fleeceware” where users are severely overcharged for mobile application services).

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