Online scams that try to separate the unwary from their cryptocurrency are a dime a dozen, but a great many seemingly disparate crypto scam websites tend to rely on the same dodgy infrastructure providers to remain online in the face of massive fraud and abuse complaints from their erstwhile customers. Here’s a closer look at hundreds of phony crypto investment schemes that are all connected through a hosting provider which caters to people running crypto scams.
A security researcher recently shared with KrebsOnSecurity an email he received from someone who said they foolishly invested an entire bitcoin (currently worth ~USD $43,000) at a website called ark-x2[.]org, which promised to double any cryptocurrency investment made with the site.
The ark-x2[.]org site pretended to be a crypto giveaway website run by Cathie Wood, the founder and CEO of ARKinvest, an established Florida company that manages several exchange-traded investment funds. This is hardly the first time scammers have impersonated Wood or ARKinvest; a tweet from Wood in 2020 warned that the company would never use YouTube, Twitter, Instagram or any social media to solicit money.
At the crux of these scams are well-orchestrated video productions published on YouTube and Facebook that claim to be a “live event” featuring famous billionaires. In reality, these videos just rehash older footage while peppering viewers with prompts to sign up at a scam investment site — one they claim has been endorsed by the celebrities.
“I was watching a live video at YouTube where Elon Musk, Cathy Wood, and Jack Dorsey were talking about Crypto,” the victim told my security researcher friend. “An overlay on the video pointed to subscribing to the event at their website. I’ve been following Cathy Wood in her analysis on financial markets, so I was in a comfortable and trusted environment. The three of them are bitcoin maximalists in a sense, so it made perfect sense they were organizing a giveaway.”
“Without any doubt (other than whether the transfer would go through), I sent them 1 BTC (~$42,800), and they were supposed to return 2 BTC back,” the victim continued. “In hindsight, this was an obvious scam. But the live video and the ARK Invest website is what produced the trusted environment to me. I realized a few minutes later, when the live video looped. It wasn’t actually live, but a replay of a video from 6 months ago.”
Ark-x2[.]org is no longer online. But a look at the Internet address historically tied to this domain (22.214.171.124) shows the same address is used to host or park hundreds of other newly-minted crypto scam domains, including coinbase-x2[.]net (pictured below).
Typical of crypto scam sites, Coinbase-x2 promises a chance to win 50,000 ETH (Ethereum virtual currency), plus a “welcome bonus” wherein they promise to double any crypto investment made with the platform. But everyone who falls for this greed trap soon discovers they won’t be getting anything in return, and that their “investment” is gone forever.
There isn’t a lot of information about who bought these crypto scam domains, as most of them were registered in the past month at registrars that automatically redact the site’s WHOIS ownership records.
However, several dozen of the domains are in the .us domain space, which is technically supposed to be reserved for entities physically based in the United States. Those Dot-us domains all contain the registrant name Sergei Orlovets from Moscow, the email address email@example.com, and the phone number +7.9914500893. Unfortunately, each of these clues lead to a dead end, meaning they were likely picked and used solely for these scam sites.
A dig into the Domain Name Server (DNS) records for Coinbase-x2[.]net shows it is hosted at a service called Cryptohost[.]to. Cryptohost also controls several other address ranges, including 194.31.98.X, which is currently home to even more crypto scam websites, many targeting lesser-known cryptocurrencies like Polkadot.
An ad posted to the Russian-language hacking forum BHF last month touted Cryptohost as a “bulletproof hosting provider for all your projects,” i.e., it can be relied upon to ignore abuse complaints about its customers.
“Why choose us? We don’t keep your logs!,” someone claiming to represent Cryptohost wrote to denizens of BHF.
Cryptohost says its service is backstopped by DDoS-Guard, a Russian company that has featured here recently for providing services to the sanctioned terrorist group Hamas and to the conspiracy theory groups QAnon/8chan.
Cryptohost did not respond to requests for comment. Continue reading