The biggest scams that rocked the crypto world in 2021.

2021 was a huge year for the mainstreaming of cryptocurrency. 

Popular cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Dogecoin had a banner year that kicked off following the memestock craze that took place in January. These cryptocurrencies soared to new highs, attracting attention from people who may not have been familiar with the industry previously.

But crypto is unpredictable. It’s still an incredibly volatile market, almost completely devoid of regulations that protect those who, say, invest in the stock market. With so many crypto newbies jumping into this lawless wild west over the past year, scammers have salivated at all the newfound opportunities to cash in at their expense.

Sure, scammers are still utilizing Twitter to trick new crypto speculators into thinking Elon Musk wants to double their investments. But, that’s a 2020 grift. The schemes of 2021 make some of those look like child’s play.

To end the year, Mashable has poured through some of the biggest scams of the year. We’re not strictly talking about the amount of money stolen either. This list is composed of the most unique and brazen scams, too.

1. Squid Game token

Take the biggest streaming television hit of the year, turn it into a cryptocurrency, and what do you get?

One of the most widely publicized scams of the year.

Media outlets, embarrassingly, fell head over heels for Squid Game token, a completely unauthorized alternative cryptocurrency based on the hit Netflix series Squid Game.

In just a matter of weeks, Squid Game token went from worth a few bucks to nearly $3,000. CNBC, Forbes, Business Insider, and a slew of other outlets all covered Squid Game token, seemingly enamored by how quickly it was rising in value.

However, there were problems from the get-go. Aside from its creators having absolutely no authority to use the Squid Game name to base their cryptocurrency on, people who invested into the Squid Game token complained right away that they weren’t able to sell what they bought.

This was by design, of course. The creators of Squid Game token created an anti-sell-off mechanism right into their cryptocurrency. Of course, not everyone was blocked from selling, however. And Squid Game token ended up the same way most of these altcoins do: A pump and dump scheme that enriches its creators and their buddies, leaving well-meaning retail investors with the losses.

But, the amount of press coverage Squid Game token was able to generate before the scam was unveiled, which likely helped bring more dupes into the scam, was truly one-of-a-kind. 

2. SaveTheKids / FaZe saga

Pushing cryptocurrencies was big business for social media influencers in 2021.

Of course, a large amount of the crypto that your favorite Instagram star or TikTok celeb was promoting ended up being pump and dump schemes. However, no other instance of an influencer-hyped cryptocurrency grift could match what happened with the SaveTheKids token.

In early June 2021, FaZe Clan members Kay, Teeqo, Jarvis, and Nikan, along with YouTuber RiceGum started promoting a charity-based cryptocurrency called SaveTheKids. These influencers didn’t just shoot out some tweets that took a few seconds to type either. They shot promotional videos and lent their images to the SaveTheKids website.

The sales pitch was simple: Invest in this new crypto that’s sure to be a success because of its connections to the biggest Esports brand on the planet, and the project will help raise money for children’s charities as well. A win-win!

Except, the whole thing was a rug pull. This occurs when a developer creates a cryptocurrency with the intent to run away with investors’ funds. Shortly after SaveTheKids token officially launched, the crypto tanked due to a massive sell-off from those initial investors holding the majority of the tokens. As soon as SaveTheKids went public, it became worthless.

Perhaps, things could have ended there, the whole situation chalked up as yet another alternative coin scam. But, some noticed FaZe Kay, specifically, had a penchant for promoting cryptocurrencies that all ended this way.

YouTubers like Coffeezilla, SomeOrdinaryGamers, and Barely Sociable soon uncovered a tangled web of deceit that implicated FaZe Kay well beyond just promoting the scam, but also in its creation as well.

By the end of this saga, FaZe Clan launched an internal review that concluded with multiple suspensions and FaZe members including FaZe Kay being kicked out of the group.

3. Adin Ross admits he promoted a crypto scam

It would be remiss to not award Adin Ross’ promotion of MILF token with its very own mention.

Ross is a popular Twitch streamer with millions of followers on the platform. He’s received criticism over the past year for his gambling streams, where he promoted sketchy online casino platforms. The streamer himself accidentally leaked his messages in a stream over the summer that showed he’s making millions from these promotional deals.

However, in May of 2021, Ross also jumped into the cryptocurrency world by promoting an alternative coin called MILF token. Ross was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to stream himself going through the tedious process of buying the crypto.

Just three weeks later, however, Ross had a stark change in messaging when it came to this investment opportunity.

“By the way, that MILF Token shit I did a while back? I already told you guys don’t buy that shit,” said Ross while laughing during a livestream. “I got paid a bag to do that shit. Like, I don’t give a fuck. I hope none of you guys actually bought it.”

At of the time of publishing, MILF token has lost approximately 98 percent of its value from when Ross promoted it.

4. Fake press releases

Last year, you couldn’t come across a tweet about cryptocurrency without a Fake Elon Musk Twitter account in the replies, pushing some new memecoin or ponzi scheme.

This year, fake press releases have taken this scam to the next level.

On two separate occasions in 2021, fake press releases from global retail corporations duped the media into publishing fake stories that companies were going to start accepting cryptocurrency. In September, a fake press release announced that Walmart would start accepting Litecoin. Just a couple months later, a fake press release claimed that Kroger was going to take Bitcoin Cash as payment.

Mainstream media fell for the scam and covered the fake news in the press release, thinking it was real.
Credit: Mashable Screenshot

Neither were true. However, the fraudsters behind these sham documents were successfully able to distribute this fake news through big press release distribution companies, where they were disseminated to and covered by mainstream news outlets.

In both instances, Litecoin and Bitcoin Cash prices went up on the news and then came back down once Walmart and Kroger denied the claims. The result: A quick cash grab for anyone in on the scam.

As cryptocurrency advocates continue to seek validation and legitimacy for their young industry, scams that claim to provide that will continue to grow.

5. Poly Network hack

Forget 2021, this would have been the heist of the century.

Over the summer, a hacker discovered a flaw in the decentralized finance platform Poly Network that allowed them to transfer more than $600 million to their account.

More than $600 million.

However, a haul that large would likely have been hard to disappear with scot-free. In the weeks that followed, the hacker reached out to Poly Network and claimed it was always their intent to return the money. Poly Network played along, even referring to the hacker as “Mr. White Hat,” a nod to the term describing an ethical hacker that tries to expose security flaws so they can be fixed before a nefarious actor comes along.

In the end, it worked out for Poly Network. The hacker ended up transferring the majority of the cryptocurrency funds back to the platform.

What did the hacker get out of it? For one, they escaped any possible repercussions for carrying out the biggest crypto heist in history. Poly Network also offered a $500,000 reward to the hacker for returning the funds.

6. Africrypt scam

Two brothers, Raees and Ameer Cajee, ran a Bitcoin investment firm out of South Africa called Africrypt. Now they’re missing, along with all of their investors’ cryptocurrency.

Back in April of 2021, the Cajees claimed that their investment firm had been hacked and all of their clients’ accounts had been compromised. However, the story was quickly picked apart and investors pointed fingers at the Cajees.

Lawyers representing investors claim that as much as $3.6 billion has been stolen by the Cajee brothers. If that was true, move over Poly Network, Africrypt would be the largest crypto heist by far.

However, that number is in dispute. Still, we’re talking millions and millions of dollars here, at least.

Africrypt investors are still working on recouping their funds. It’s unclear where Raees and Ameer Cajee are currently.

7. Stolen Bored Ape NFTs

Calvin Becerra’s story is small bore compared to the amounts of money stolen through the other scams on this list.

However, it’s still worth mentioning.

Becerra is, er, was the owner of three Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs. Investors buy these non-fungible tokens in order to prove ownership of the item they are connected to. In Becerra’s case, we’re talking three pieces of computer-generated art portraying cartoonish apes.

According to Beccera, scammers tricked him into sending over these three NFTs under the guise of providing technical support.

The current floor price for one of these apes on the NFT market? Around $225,000.

Becerra claims the three Bored Ape NFTs he owned are over $1 million.

It appears Becerra has recouped at least some of his NFTs, although it seems he had to pay to get them back. However, when they were first stolen, Becerra tried to spread the word and inform others not to buy his stolen NFTs.

Although the blockchain showed he no longer owned them, Becerra claimed that these indisputable records on the blockchain were irrelevant and that he was really the owner. Basically, he argued against the very foundation of which NFT advocates claim gives any of this value.

Perhaps this makes these stolen NFTs the greatest scam of the year after all.