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Savings: regulators face an explosion of online scams

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The company is serious. In other words, in the world of finance, it is regulated and has a PSAN license (digital asset service provider) issued by the Autorité des marchés financiers (AMF).

However, the advertising campaign of the Coinhouse platform to promote, last winter, its “Crypto” booklet at 5% guaranteed, made the regulator wince. The promise of a “future for those who buy it (cryptos)”or even the invitation to act now (“don’t be late for the next rush hour”), or more simply, the affirmation, “Bitcoin is worth more”, stuck a little too much to the messages of real scammers, who abound on social networks, to defraud savers who are a little too gullible.

Because passbooks and cryptos are the two fashionable trends in the lucrative universe – 500 to 600 million euros soared in 2020, according to estimates from the prosecution – of financial scams. And again, this is probably only the tip of the iceberg because many victims do not come forward to the authorities, out of shame at having been scammed so easily.

“Cryptos are among our top 2 scams, with an average reported loss of 40,000 euros in the first quarter of 2022… compared to 20,000 on average in 2021. So this is indeed a matter of serious concern for us”, recognizes Claire Castanet, director of investor relations and protection at the AMF, during the presentation of the 2021 activity report of the joint AMF/ACPR unit (prudential control and resolution authority), in charge of overseeing the financial industry good business practices.

“To attract the general public, the subliminal message “go ahead, don’t miss the opportunity”, with this notion of urgency, of the good deal to be seized, is one of the main springs of scams around cryptos” , says Claire Castanet.

The booklet, a medium of choice for scammers

For his part, Grégoire Vuarlot, director of the control of commercial practices at the ACPR, always notes an exponential increase in scams around a booklet, with an average loss of 72,000 euros, which can rise in some cases to 600,000 euros. “The booklet is reassuring, everyone knows…”, advances the supervisor.

However, unlike the terms of bank, or insurance, the booklet is a catch-all concept which is not at all legally framed. Everyone can therefore use it indiscriminately, even though in the minds of households, it refers to regulated savings accounts (passbook A) and to an image of security and liquidity.

The authorities even expect this fake passbook scam to thrive in a context of rising interest rates, in the shadow of the real marketing campaigns for bankbooks which are (re)starting to flourish in the savings landscape.

The typical profile of victims is difficult to determine as it affects everyone, “rich and poor alike” underlines Benoît de Juvigny, general secretary of the AMF, generally older than the average of the French. As for the scammers, they are rarely identified because they are located in foreign countries, sometimes European like Cyprus, most often outside Europe, like the Maghreb countries or Israel. The circuits are complex and blithely play the country jump, which makes investigations difficult and judicial coordination complicated.

Focus on prevention

This is why the only effective lever for the time being remains prevention, insist the authorities. This involves radio and TV prevention campaigns aimed at the general public and the promotion of the Assurance Banque Info Service (Abeis) site, which warns of fake sites (blacklist) and informs the public (190,000 calls in 2021 and more than 1, 4 million visits). Thus, the AMF and the ACPR blacklisted more than 1,300 fraudulent sites in 2021, bringing the total of banned sites to nearly 4,000 today.

Common sense is also an effective remedy: do not answer an unsolicited call, take a good look at the mentions of the site, never communicate bank details, be wary of tempting offers, such as its famous “sales” on listed shares, which which is in itself an aberration in the stock market. Another disturbing phenomenon is the impersonation of recognized professionals or popular brands, such as Amazon.

The most dangerous, and the least visible (therefore the least detectable for supervisors), is undoubtedly on social networks or encrypted messaging. Some influencers also play a leading role in attracting young people to the clutches of scammers.

Beyond the scam, the regulators are even worried about the messages conveyed on networks like Tik Tok to very young people, on the promise of future enrichment as certain as it is rapid which ultimately makes studies useless… Too beautiful to be true is undoubtedly the best reflex to have in the face of these illusions which can be very expensive.