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Anatomy of a bitcoin scam that’s hit at least four South Africans

TJ Naidoo of Durban got pulled into a bitcoin scam on Facebook. It started small, then quickly spiralled out of control.
If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Image: Shutterstock

TJ Naidoo (not her real name) works in a hospital in the Durban area and, sucked in by the buzz around bitcoin, decided she wanted to make some extra money to supplement her income.

She logged on to Facebook and started searching. Before long, she came across this guy:

Source: Facebook

Chris, it turns out, is a trader with a company called GooTrader.

GooTrader’s website assured TJ that it was “a legally operating company” but with nothing to verify this other than a bald statement.

Chris, when not making fortunes from cryptos, spends his time doing this:

Source: Facebook

TJ connected with Mason on Facebook. He offered her an opportunity to make some quick profits with bitcoin: invest R3 000 in bitcoin, said Chris, ship it to an address where he would put it to work in bitcoin “mining”, and she would get R11 000 in a matter of weeks.

In November last year, TJ purchased R3 000 worth of bitcoin through the Luno crypto exchange and sent it off to the address supplied by Chris.

Sure enough, a few weeks later she had R11 000 deposited into her Luno account.

She had made an astonishing 266% on her R3 000 investment.

Satisfied that her first investment worked out so well, she was game for another round.

Time to think bigger

But this time Chris said she should invest a bit more, and get a few friends to come on board as well, making it a party of four. TJ did R8 000 for herself and R3 000 for her mother. The two friends who came on board invested R3 000 and R5 000, making a total of R19 000 between the four.

All of this was used to buy bitcoin, again through Luno, with an instruction to send it off to a “GooTrader” bitcoin wallet, or what Chris called a “trade link” account.

This time, TJ and her friends stood to make an unbelievable R800 000 from their investment, also within a matter of weeks.

If that sounds too good to be true, it was.

When the “investment” fell due in early March this year, TJ and her fellow investors could hardly wait to get their hands on the promised R800 000.

Problems start cropping up

But there was a problem: Chris said she had to pay “tax” of R120 000 to get the money released.

TJ went out and took a personal loan and paid the R120 000 “tax” – also in bitcoin, to Chris’s wallet.

Still there was a problem. Because TJ had taken so long to pay the “tax”, Chris now informed TJ that she needed a withdrawal PIN to get the money released.

And, bad news for Chris, his bosses were so upset with him about the delay in receiving the tax that TJ’s account had been handed over to “Anderson”.

Funnily enough, Anderson’s English reads very much like Chris’s. TJ communicated with Chris/Anderson via WhatsApp and Facebook.

Here’s how it went on WhatsApp:

Chris: Once you have deposited the money to your Luno, let me know okay so I’ll guide you okay

TJ: Ok, I have to send it (the bitcoin) to the trade link?

Chris: Yeah, but not that link okay, it has to be the direct link for the pin. Let me send it to you.

Chris then sent a bitcoin wallet address, and TJ duly shipped the bitcoin to Chris’s bitcoin “wallet”. At that point her bitcoin was gone.

I decided to hop onto GooTrader to see if I could make any sense of what happened. I opened up a chat box and in no time “Bruce” was on the other end.

Me: Is this for real? Can I speak to Marco Verratti (one of the directors listed on the website)? You say there is 100% chance of NOT losing money. How so?

Bruce: Sir, you can get directive from any of our officers okay. There is not (sic) way you are going to lose your money because you alone will have access to your trade account….You have to trust the platform okay, so a start (sic) I’ll advise you to start with the minimum amount so you’ll be able to see how it all works okay.

Bruce: Ma’am it all depends okay… Only when you exceeded paying COT (sic), it will not have to pass through SARS verification if found hugh (sic) honestly you’ll be asked to pay Tax.

Me: What is COT?

Bruce: COT means cost of transfer!!!

Me: How much is the cost of transfer?

Bruce: Sir, COT is not determined by anyone okay, it’s determined by the market signal on your trade.

Me: Must I send bitcoin and to which address?

Bruce: Sir, you’ll create a trade account on the platform, after which you’ll now send the Bitcoin to the account you’ll create okay, once you create the account you’ll have a Bitcoin wallet on the account you’ll create.

At this point I had had enough of Bruce, or Chris, or Anderson, or whatever his name is. His use of “okay” in virtually every sentence is a dead giveaway that this is the same person.

An image search of Marco Veratti, a supposed director at GooTrader, shows the same photo popping up in dozens of other lookalike schemes.

Source: Google

There is a sad ending to this story in that TJ is now considering going under debt review to claw her way out of the hole she dug for herself.

Signs of a scam

There were red flags all along the way that TJ missed.

  • No company registration number or certificate that could be verified.
  • No licence issued by a financial regulator anywhere in the world (crypto companies are generally unregulated, but they will still have company registrations, offices, phone numbers and credible directors with a track record of business success; you can, and should, investigate these).
  • ‘Directors’ who look like pictures of models grabbed off the internet, and when you Google search that image the person shows up as a ‘director’ of other dodgy investment schemes.
  • Bad English on the website.
  • Testimonials from ‘satisfied’ customers.
  • Claims of guaranteed returns.
  • Claims that you cannot lose your money.
  • Approaching clients on Facebook or WhatsApp.
  • Insistence that you invest in bitcoin and send that bitcoin to an address given to you by the scamster (once your bitcoin is sent to that address, it is gone and there is no one who can help you recover it).
  • Adding weird costs like “cost of transfer” (when you ship bitcoin or any crypto from a legitimate company like Luno, the costs of transfer are already paid by you, and they are generally quite small. You do not have to pay two sets of transfer costs).
  • Ponzi scheme set-up, as in TJ’s case: start small and then see a successful payout. Comforted by this success, you are encouraged to go bigger the next time. That’s when it unravels. You’ve been had.
  • Delays in receiving withdrawals: claims of procedural errors in requesting withdrawals, demanding more money (like cost of transfer), and then claiming you took too long, made some administrative error – anything to delay the process. In TJ’s case, she was blocked on Facebook by Chris.
  • Claims your investment will go into bitcoin “mining”: there are reputable “miners” (who use heavy-duty computers to solve complex problems and get rewarded with bitcoin) but these companies don’t need your money, and most of them are doing fabulously well, as we previously covered in Moneyweb. Some of them are listed on stock exchanges and offer an indirect way to gain exposure to bitcoin.


A pyramid scheme by any other shape
How to identify a Ponzi scheme
How to spot an investment scam

In TJ’s case, Chris demanded she pay over another $3 000 to get her R800 000 “profit” released. That’s another roughly R45 000 she would have to pay, on top of the R120 000 “tax” and the R19 000 original “investment”.

The Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA) has been alerted to GooTrader and says it will be issuing a public warning. It seems “Chris” or “Bruce” or whatever his name is operates out of Florida in the US.

Legitimate channels

There are many legitimate crypto operators in SA, and we have covered them extensively in Moneyweb. Luno is a legitimate crypto exchange, and one of the largest in the country.

Ironically, had TJ bought and continued to hold her bitcoin at Luno, her investment would now have made her more than 100% gains since December 2020.

A look at Chris Mason’s Facebook page (which we will not supply) suggests numerous South Africans are about to take the same tragic steps as TJ.

“I would laugh if it was not so tragic,” she says.

According to Brandon Topham, head of enforcement at the FSCA, which issued a health warning on cryptos two weeks ago: “… it seems these people are foreign and even if local, the chances of you receiving anything back ever is less than 0.000000000000001% unfortunately.

“The banks won’t be able to do anything to help either unfortunately.”




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A fool and her money is soon parted.

Anyone handing money over to a stranger from FB, you deserve to be scammed.

I’ve ordered stuff online before, and on one occasion got scammed. However, fortunately for me, I had paid by credit card and got the transaction reversed by my bank, albeit after jumping through some hoops. Buyer like the security that you get due to properly regulated markets. I also like that, if I invest on the JSE, the exchange and the authorities will at least protect me from outright scams, even if I do lose money through silly investments.

The very nature of crypto, being uncontrolled and anonymous, however, lends itself beautifully to the kinds of scam above. Once you’ve handed over the keys, your crypto is gone and irretrievably so. This anonymity and lack of oversight is advertised by the fanatics as a feature and a good thing, but it’s actually a fatal bug in the whole shaky crypto edifice, the kind of bugs that makes your Windows screen turn blue and requires a hard restart.

I completely agree. I’ve heard it so many times that people see cryptocurrencies as a better alternative to fiat currencies. Given the volatility, flawed nature and lack of regulation, it’s barely a competitor. The hardcore fans will continue to deny this and be blindsided by the possible yields and attractive continual bull run.

The privacy advocates also think that its nature of anonymity is a huge benefit. However, fail to see that it provides little to no protection for consumers who have lost or had their accounts swiped. Then you get the abuse of the anonymity where dodgy dealings are done.

I’m not against privacy at all, but you can’t have complete anonymity as this kind of defeats the purpose of laws and safety measures that protect others.

The money lost in a Ponzi scheme is the cost, or penalty, for not reading Moneyweb.

It is that simple. Regular readers of the financial press are not gullible, uninformed and naive enough to be targeted by Ponzi schemes.

Fraudsters target intelligent people because stupid people don’t have any money to invest in anything. They target intelligent people who lack knowledge of financial matters.

The money invested in objective information delivers a thousand per cent return on capital. Therefore, visiting Moneyweb regularly is the best investment the man in the street can ever make.

Not always so. Did the great MoneyWeb warn us of the Steinhoff scam? Methinks not and many, many others perpetrated by JSE licenced scam artists (IMHO). Look to Tongaat, many construction companies, pick a property share. I will not even mention ANC “businessman” politicians. Con artists are often very clever and very convincing and, if they are “prominent” it takes a brave person to call them out.

There’s a bit of a difference between “JSE Licensed scam artists” that use elaborate mechanics to hide their dire financial situation and obvious money-multiplication scams like these

Get real man.You know what Sensei mean and he is correct.Only greedy gullible fools get caught by these scam.

With the MTI Global and other scams thankfully being exposed on MW regularly, the intelligence of the marks has been debated on the MW blog frequently and we can agree that intelligent people can and do get scammed all the time by such scams. On the MTI scam one of the victims even blogged and admitted that it was not stupidity but that he had no knowledge of such things and had trusted another party that he knew.

However this scheme seems to have worked on a “filter” similar to the most well known Nigerian scams. To most the James Bond look a like photo, the cliqued names, the bad spelling would have been enough to stay away (in Nigerian scams the scammers even admit to being from Nigeria). The scammers have been known to do this on purpose as they do not want to waste time on people that will figure them out half way through.

So the questions is, is the filter looking for unintelligent people or simply people that desperately want something such as this to be true that they disregard all the warning signs.

I head up the sales division of a mid-sized company. Got a call during office hours the other day, trying to sell me an ‘investment’ via some company in Singapore. I thanked the caller for the wonderful ‘sales’ call/opportunity and promptly started ‘selling’ him our company’s products. He asked what the hell I’m doing, to which I responded that I’m doing what he’s doing – selling my products to someone who has not requested a call and gave no permission for it. He ended the call abruptly. Did not try to bother me again. Mission accomplished!

And only R63.00 a month… Please note this free punt, comment monitors!

You must be the marketing manager/officer for Moneyweb. Will this give you a raise or something?

I hope you are not this cynical with family and friends. You will grow old as a very lonely cynical optimist.

I simply gave credit where it is due. I also referred to the local financial journals in general. People who do not read, are condemned to learn from their own mistakes and to repeat history.

I was wondering what Markus Jooste has been doing, since he can’t have 300 hundred race horses any more

Sitting quietly in cristo’s Bantry bay Beach front apartment like a good boy till the heat dissappeares…..

At least you don’t need to contact M Jooste on FB for steinhoff shares, that’s the difference. Really this entire mess could have been avoided, FB seriously and she did not tell anyone except friends to invest, now that was naive of her. Now she’s under debt review and the guy with her 120000 Bitcoin gone in 60 seconds. Sometimes it doesn’t need to be big red flags just something small already should put you off. To me she was greedy because after the first payout why did she not withdraw shut up shop cash in her gains and not reinvest, to me that’s greed right there. If I win a million rand instead of betting more against it to win why not let the million rand work for you instead.

Time to scam the scammers. TJ should’ve done the following:

1. Buy First initial R3,000 worth of Bitcoin
1.1 Receive your payment of R11,000 after few months as promised (R8,000 profit)

2. TJ now disappears

3. DJ now appear (same person as TJ, but an alias – and scammers don’t know because you know, it is crypto and totally anonymous which the crypto worshippers gives us mere mortals the impression of that it is it’s biggest worth!)
3.1) Now, DJ invest R3,000 and wait two months to get again R11,000
3.1.1) TOTAL PROFIT is now R16,000 and substantial growth

4. Rinse and repeat with AJ, KJ, LJ etc ad infinitum

VOILA – you scammed the scammer!

Lol… I actually had this same thought! Wouldn’t it be sweet justice!

Like reading these articles just for the new angle/stoooorie that these guys come up with.

The James Bond look is also just A grade. Just to note he is standing on a Riva hand crafted boat and these usually go for 100’s of thousands of dollars and is usually just the tender boat for the main superyacht so why would Chris Mason (very similar to Free Mason must be some humor in that) need or bother with amounts such as R3000.00.

Also the problem started here “decided she wanted to make some extra money to supplement her income. She logged on to Facebook and started searching.”. You got to be serious go to FB for Investments.

That is where they are at the fake profiles offering 10000% returns that’s how they swoop down onto their victims. The very first red light was that she did not consult a professional at all let alone do thorough research. I use luno exchange but only invested R100.00 towards Bitcoin, as much as I read lots and try to stay informed I am very cautious about it hence I won’t go big on it. I had a friend who also got scammed from a guy on FB lost R38000 in the process. Another person wanting to invest BTC on your behalf. Another lady from USA approached me on WhatsApp trying to get me to open a trade account and they do Bitcoin mining. She really tried and I played her like the fiddle. I prefer my ETFs, tax free, my RA and my work pension. I am debt free zero assets no property and no car. So I can make informed decisions not based upon emotion but indeed logic and trust. I mostly invest long term Bitcoin is good for short term gains but it’s too risky with all these schemes popping up it is becoming riskier and and more darker the deeper we go. Thank goodness I didn’t own shares in steinhoff, the signs were there when “Star” was formed on the JSE. Those were the signs, the huge drive in acquisitions and rapid expansion, to some it might be oh they just expanding but to others there’s more. Steinhoff inflated their profits to support the debt and ridiculous risky acquisitions outside SA. When the company and it’s audit committee knew Steinhoff was not profitable but instead held high level debt with barely any profits. The deal was to combine steinhoff and shoprite interests together due to ShopRite’s massive African footprint, which would mean steinhoff can go expand into Africa using shoprite distribution chain. It was a match made in heaven they would have competed and come up to the likes of Naspers just in retail.

I invested money on Ovex in their arbitrage offering. It has been very slow and it is very difficult in reality to tell whether it is real or not. I would like to know whether anyone else has tried this and what their experience has been. The issue is, of course, that it takes weeks for the money to be made from a number of arbitrage trades and trades can only be made when there is an arbitrage gap in pricing so it’s difficult to know until weeks have gone by. Ciaran, you pumped these guys for weeks but have now gone quiet – I’d appreciate to know whether you have heard anything good or bad at this point? Or anyone else?

Take comfort in that the Ovex people had a jolly lovely Easter weekend – using your money. I noticed your use of “arbitrage” and “invested” in the same sentence. Just toss in “bespoke” and then you have the full trifecta!!

Ouch – I hope you’re wrong about that!
I wonder whether Ciaran/Moneyweb will do a follow up to check that everything is above board. I still think it is!

There is no such thing as a risk-free profit. Arbitrage is supposed to offer a risk-free opportunity because the speculator sells one instrument and buys another. He trades the spread or difference that is supposed to close over time.

This supposedly risk-free trade bankrupted hedge-funds and some of the big banks got burnt badly more than a decade ago with the white maize/ yellow maize spread when the spread opened up further. Then, the margin calls came and forced the spread even wider. Then it got a life of its own. This risk-free trade consumed all the profits that were made on the high-risk directional trades.

When you see an opportunity for a risk-free profit, it simply means you fail to identify the actual risk. This is why risk-free opportunities actually hold the biggest risks. I hope I did not confuse you?

I guess the problem is that if you think you’re quite smart and you can’t see the catch, and if you are greedy, you have to learn from your mistakes!

I worry more about a pure scam than about unknown risks although maybe that’s two sides of the same coin.

I’ve heard you Sensei and others, but in this case I still can’t find the unknown risk you talk about and I’m greedy enough to ignore your warning and those of others.

Yes, yes, I know. Everyone told me so!

Pin thanks for your comment. Crypto arbitrage per se, is a legitimate opportunity. I know people who have done exceptionally well with this. I am not sceptical about the specific institution or the opportunity.

I am referring to arbitrage in general. There are factors that cause, or drive the opportunity for arbitrage. One should identify those factors to calculate the risks. If a drought, import parity or currency movement cause the spread between White maize and Yellow maize to widen, then those same factors can cause the spread to widen even further over the short term.

Arbitrage is based on certain assumptions, and as we know, assumption is the mother of all stuff-ups.

Excellent advice, thanks!

The Ovex Principle should work in theory , but timing is the risk as Crypto is so volatile . You also get ripped off by the banks when transferring money from RSA (exch rate).
If you have money in say the UK to transfer to RSA then Buying Crypto there and selling it Here Definately gives you a rate far Superior to any other exchange .

Hi Edalsg, I looked into TUSD and it is a ‘stablecoin’ supposedly backed by fiat USD. Effectively it is the link to fiat in the transaction and should sell in line with the fiat USD whether in SA or another country. Therefor I’m not worried about that angle.

Apart from the risk of this being a simple scam, the two risks I still haven’t managed to get to the bottom of are (1) TUSD has been audited and found to be backed by USD, but there are rumours that it is not fully backed all the time, and (2) Ovex has a bridge funding line which allows it to buy and sell the BTC on two exchanges at exactly the same time (eliminating the risk of prices changing during the arbitrage transaction) but I don’t understand the terms of the funding or the risk of an issue with the funding at any point in time. I suspect that they use ETH contracts for this funding which could hide the counterparties or introduce hidden risks.

The biggest problem I’ve found so far is that while people talk about a 2-4% arbitrage opportunity Ovex has only done two trades for me in over a month. There is talk that the 2-4% has narrowed to closer to 1% recently as a result of big BTC sales on SA exchanges in recent weeks (apparently MTI BTC that has been recovered being converted back to ZAR). Therefor fewer trades are profitable after costs.

So far things look OK but I haven’t yet withdrawn my money from my account to count it! Or to check that they still have it!

Loving all the feedback. This is the power of the ‘community’!

Hi Pin,
I also had a look at the Ovex arbitrage.
What is very offputting for me is that instead of using Bitcoin as the crypto in which Arbitrage gains are then made – they apparently use a crypto called: TUSD
The concern is that to arbitrage they have to sell TUSD crypto in South Africa in Rand. I just dont undestand how the market for that crypto is big enough in South Africa for them to do that.
For Bitcoin – no problem. For TUSD – big problem

For any crypto… Hell no. You have no idea what is being done with it.

Can you explain what this Obex investment is in a few simple sentences?


If somebody offered me a way to earn a very high return, the first thing I would do is ask them why they don’t borrow money at 7%, keep quiet and make proper on the quiet.

The more people that bet one side of an arbitrage, the less money to be made. Cheap sheep don’t last long at an auction

Hi Johan, thanks for this common sense comment. My understanding is that you can’t borrow without collateral or equity and cash flows. Therefor the need for investors’ money. I suppose they could be leveraging the trades somewhat without our knowledge though. Everyone else in the arbitrage world does that but then again normal margins are measured in bps not 1-4% per trade,
I’ll call them and try to understand better.
One thing for sure, Ciaran and the team could make use of all our comments to do a much more detailed piece now – many more layers of the onion than the original interviews and paid pieces that they included a few weeks ago.

These scams are very pervasive,but many of them don’t even do the initial pay-out so she was lucky (and unlocky) this one did and hooked her for more
Another common tactic currently is people on Linkedin messaging you for a Seminar/Crypto opportunity – and then it ends up being a sales tactic to get you into scams like G999 / Gold Standard Bank / Gold Standard Partners

Cry me a river TJ……..

It’s a shame that people fall for so many scams. But in all seriousness, common sense should be enough to prevent the majority of them. Apparently not so. People get stuck in the rut of feeling left out after people have made money. Problem is that by the time you have learnt people have made good amounts of money off something, it’s normally too late to jump on the bandwagon.

Also, stay off FaceBook, it’s a cesspit and a huge spreader of misinformation. I get that people desire the life of living on fancy yachts and so on, but fail to keep reality in sight.

Those who are greedy deserve to be scammed (not saying she was).

Greed makes people do stupid things. Even smart people make stupid decisions when greed supersedes logical thinking and common sense. School fees were paid and they will never see this money again

Surely you know after the line; “she contacted someone on Facebook” it is an OBVIOUS scam.

I’m sorry she lost her money, but how much more obvious can it get?

‘Some people are realy stupid’ – George Carlin

Bitcoin, and all cryptocurrencies, are nothing more than a farce, a Ponzi scheme waiting to collapse. It has no value other than the belief that people place in it having value. Once that belief collapses so will the value of Bitcoin and people will lose a lot of money. How can something that can be created out of ‘thin air’ (Bitcoin mining) have any value, other than a perceived value by people falling prey to other people mining Bitcoin and continuing to sell their scam? Once people realize the scam that underlies the cryptocurrencies their values will drop to zero and there will be many depressed people left ‘holding the bag’. It is only a matter of time before Bitcoin drops to zero, like all other cryptocurrencies.

At least with a fiat currency you have the backing of the national government that issues the currency. Sure, with the USA printing trillions and trillions of dollars out of thin air, inflation is a risk. But at least those dollars are backed by the faith in the US Government and their tax base, whereas cryptocurrencies are backed by nothing other than a Ponzi scheme of people selling other people a dream based on a farce.

I have zero faith in cryptocurrencies and will be staying far away, not even risking one dollar of my investment capital. I hope that when the Ponzi scheme collapses, as it will, that the people left holding the bag can afford the losses they will suffer.

I predict that we will look back in 20 years’ time and realize just how big a scheme this was, starting off small and then gaining popularity, only for the creators of cryptocurrencies to laugh all the way to the bank as their Ponzi scheme collapses and they walk away with the riches, while those suckers who placed their funds into cryptocurrencies are left on the sidelines. People will wonder how they could have been so stupid and not seen this coming.

Mark My Words – Bitcoin is going to ZERO!!

Someone who has not one iota of understanding of the blockchain, Bitcoin, or BTC mining.

Yes ExpatCharlesA, the services and value behind these entities is totally ‘worthless’, and a ‘pyramid scheme’ [ PS…longest running pyramid scheme of all time…..since 2009….still going strong….yup, all this according to you, just a ‘pyramid scheme’ ]

All created out of ‘thin air’ as you say.

So, just like the internet then ?

And just like Google.

Just like Facebook.

And Twitter…..


All these BILLION $ companies right ??

Oops……someone just got…..:



Scams like these have been going for decades [ and longer depending on the criteria, right back to the dawn of mankind ] ………..

So what’s different now ???????

Apply some critical thinking here – in a TRILLION $$ industry traded daily and increasing, there will be bad apples……… however, anyone noticed MSM’s eagerness in covering any scam to hit the crypto currency industry ?

Yet, the BIGGEST scam of all time, fiat, goes virtually untouched !!!!


I could fill a book the density of ‘War and Peace’ with the scams perpetrated in the fiat finance world as we know it, and it would only touch the tip of the iceberg.

Instead, here we have a clear case of the MSM agenda in full swing, as the old guard throws everything they have in this final showdown as the grip of the bankers is slowly loosened via Bitcoin et al.

Get your popcorn ready…..the battle can only intensify, and I believe the old guard has a few dirty tricks up their sleeve which they will pull in desperation to sabotage Bitcoin and its blue chip brothers yet.

These scams are so simple and effective, and they catch a lot of well-educated people. You can use any “asset” to lure victims. Coffee bean futures or porterhouse steaks ETFs will work great.

And you don’t even need capital to start.
Couldn’t be easier.

End of comments.





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