Online fraud has taken over from old-fashioned cold calling as the leading tactic for investment scam artists, the U.K. Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) warned on Monday.
Scams may involve cryptocurrencies (such as bitcoin), binary options, and contracts for difference that are promoted through social media and other online channels, the FCA says in its announcement.
These sorts of schemes have taken over from traditional forms of investment fraud, such as boiler room brokers that cold calls to find potential victims.
“As people have become more skeptical of investment-related cold calls and consumer habits have changed, we have seen investment fraud moving online and to social media,” says Mark Steward, director of enforcement at the FCA, in a statement.
“While their websites and profiles appear to be professional, they are all too often run by fraudsters who fix prices and pay-outs, or in some instances don’t really place trades at all, before disappearing with innocent investors’ money,” he adds.
Additionally, the FCA reports that investors in the U.K. are losing an estimated £87,000 ($150,000) to online binary options scams every day. Younger investors are “significantly more likely” to fall for binary options scams versus other types of investment fraud, the regulator says.
Indeed, the profile of fraud victims is changing alongside the shift in fraudsters’ tactics. Historically, older investors (aged 55 and over) faced the greatest risk of investment fraud, but the FCA’s latest study finds that investors under 25 years old are were six times more likely to trust an investment offer received via social media, compared with investors over 55 (13% vs. 2%).
Last year, the Canadian Securities Administrators (CSA) formally banned binary options trading for retail investors; regulators in Europe launched their own consultation earlier this year on whether to enact a similar ban there.