NatWest issues 'urgent' cryptocurrency scam alert after record number of reports

A NatWest Bank branch in Enfield, London. Photo: John Sibley/Reuters
A NatWest Bank branch in Enfield, London. Photo: John Sibley/Reuters

NatWest has launched an “urgent” cryptocurrency scam alert on its app, urging customers to beware after a record number of reports between January and March 2021.

The alert, which warns people to make sure they have direct control of any digital wallets set up to handle transactions, appears on the bank’s app once an account holder logs in.

“If you’ve been contacted by a ‘trader’ promising big profits and offering to help you invest in cryptocurrency, this is a scam,” the bank said.

“Always have control of your cryptocurrency wallet. If you didn’t set the wallet up yourself or can’t access the money in the wallet, this is a scam. You should stop making payments immediately.”

It also warned customers that they could “lose all of your money” without following the advice.

NatWest said that one common scam people fall victim to involves fake celebrity endorsement.

The bank further advised that many cryptocurrency sellers are not registered with the UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), and that customers should always use a firm that is on the registered or temporary registered FCA lists. These can be found on the FCA website.

Potential investors are often prompted to fill in an online contact form and then encouraged over the phone to set up a cryptocurrency wallet. Unknown to them, the scammer installs remote access software on their device which also allows them access.

The victim is then persuaded over time to invest ever larger amounts, until the criminal empties the wallet.

"We have prevented millions of pounds from being sent to crypto-criminals who are exploiting the high levels of interest in the currency. However, consumers should always be alert, especially to the use of fake websites and bogus celebrity endorsements," said Jason Costain, NatWest's head of fraud prevention.

In the US, cryptocurrency scammers pretending to be Tesla (TSLA) boss Elon Musk, who is a big advocate of cryptocurrencies, made more than $2m (£1.4m) in six months, consumer-protection officials recently revealed.

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Read more: Bitcoin claws its way back to $40,000 as cryptos rise

Cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin (BTC-USD) are known for being extremely volatile. The coins are not regulated by any financial authorities.

Last week the volatility shaved billions off the wider crypto world's value after deep correction hit the market. The global crypto market lost 9% in the last 24-hours alone, according to data provider CoinMarket.

It came after Chinese vice-premier Liu Hu said China would "severely crack down on illegal securities activities and severely punish illegal financial activities."

He promised a "crack down on bitcoin mining and trading" as part of China's plans to "prevent and control financial risks."

Lui's comments followed statements from three state-backed organisations, earlier in the week, that warned digital currencies were not "real", should not be used for purchases, and could face regulatory changes from banks and other authorities.

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