Business 16 February 2018

Jasmine Solana

‘Optioment’ BTC scam in Austria preyed on 10,000 investors: report

Interpol is hunting down a group of people involved in an alleged cryptocurrency scam in Austria that targeted over 10,000 investors in Eastern Europe.

On Thursday, Bloomberg reported that prosecutors in Vienna have launched an investigation into a company called “Optioment,” which they said promised outsized returns via arbitrage trading.

The company, which claimed to be a “private Costa Rica-based Bitcoin fund,” invited investors to deposit legacy Bitcoin, or SegWit1x (BTC), for duration of six months to two years, promising up to 4 percent in weekly returns. Participants were also promised “additional premiums” in exchange for referring new users.

Aside from running a website, Optioment also organized events in Austria attended by an estimated 700 local retail investors, Die Presse reported.

More than 10,000 investors had fallen prey to the scheme, which reportedly netted 12,000 BTC worth some $115 million in today’s trading price, according to the German-language news outlet. The victims also included investors from Poland, Germany and other Eastern European countries in addition to Austria.

Austrian financial watchdog Financial Market Authority (FMA) spokeswoman Christina Ratz told Bloomberg local police have already identified two people connected to Optioment, but no arrests have been made. Law enforcement, meanwhile, have asked the Interpol to search for other suspected members of the company in neighboring countries including Denmark, Latvia, and Germany.

The investigation comes on the heels of a statement made European Union regulators urging member agencies to be wary of “highly risky” cryptocurrencies. Early this week, the European Supervisory Authorities (ESAs) for securities, banking and insurance and pensions warned “consumers that VCs (virtual currencies) are highly risky and unregulated products and are unsuitable as investment, savings or retirement planning products.”

For the past two years, European Union officials have been cracking down on cryptocurrency-related companies, including exchanges and trading platforms, operating without permission. In 2017, members of the European Parliament drafted a new proposal extending the scope of the Anti-Money Laundering Directive (AMLD) to include cryptocurrencies.

Note: Tokens on the Bitcoin Core (SegWit) chain are referenced as BTC coins; tokens on the Bitcoin Cash ABC chain are referenced as BCH, BCH-ABC or BAB coins.

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