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How Did Scammers Steal $14 Billion in Crypto in 2021? The 4 Biggest Crypto Heists

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2021 was a pretty mixed bag of a year for crypto, but overall it continued to grow exponentially, with millions choosing to invest in this booming industry. But, with increased hype and demand comes criminals looking to make a buck by scamming individuals out of their precious crypto. This happened throughout 2021, with over $14 billion in crypto being stolen.

So, which scams made headlines after stealing millions?

1. The Squid Coin Rug Pull

squid game logo
Image Credit: Aniol/Wikimedia Commons

After the huge global success of Netflix’s “Squid Game” in 2021, a “play-to-earn” cryptocurrency named “Squid Coin” was developed and released onto the market. The hype around Netflix’s most popular show to date fueled the hype around this crypto, with many assuming it was officially associated with Squid Game itself.

Related: The Biggest NFT Scams and How to Avoid Them

The idea behind a “play-to-earn” crypto is that users can buy tokens to use in online games and then make more tokens through these games, which they can then sell for a profit. So, this fun incentive to buy paired with the show’s global popularity drew people to start buying Squid Coin. In less than two weeks, the value of one Squid Coin shot up from $0.05 to over $2,800. And, as its value increased, more people invested, having faith that this coin would truly take off.

But this wasn’t to be. Unfortunately, this entire cryptocurrency was set to be a rug pull from the start. Developers pulled the plug and got away with almost $3.4 million of investor funds. And, as of now, no one has been arrested for this crime.

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2. Elon Musk Impersonators

elon musk at conference
Image Credit: Heisenberg Media/Wikimedia Commons

We all know the huge effect Elon Musk can have on crypto. Just a single Tweet of his has caused a market crash in the past, and many still look to him for crypto advice. So, it’s no surprise that people have been impersonating him to scam users out of their digital funds.

This scam involves cybercriminals impersonating Musk on Twitter, copying his profile picture, bio, and choosing almost identical usernames to those shown on his official Twitter account. From there, they post replies or comments under the tweets of popular accounts to promote whatever link they’re trying to push out there.

These links usually take you to fake crypto giveaways or investment scams, which trick people into sending their crypto elsewhere to have it multiplied and returned. In the end, victims end up willingly giving their crypto to someone who’s going to take it and run.

3. The Africrypt Investor Scam

funds growing with X over large pot

Investment scams have been around for decades before the internet or cryptocurrency ever existed. But these scams have managed to make their way into the crypto industry, as there’s always someone looking to invest in cryptocurrency or associated projects.

A pair of young South African brothers, Ameer and Raees Cajee, developed Africrypt in 2019. This cryptocurrency investment platform managed to raise huge amounts of Bitcoin from investors in a short period, with the brothers promising healthy returns from their investments. But this was not to be, as Africrypt turned out to be nothing more than a Ponzi scheme.

The two brothers disappeared in 2021 with over $3.6 billion in Bitcoin, pulling off one of the biggest crypto crimes of all time. South African authorities are now investigating the incident in an attempt to find these brothers, and hopefully the huge amount of money that disappeared with them.

4. The Evolved Apes NFT Rug Pull

person having crypto stolen from laptop

You’ve probably read some of the shocking stories out there about NFTs selling for tens of millions of dollars. These digital, blockchain-based artworks are now hugely popular, and cybercriminals have certainly picked up on this hype.

Related: The Biggest Risks for Crypto Investors (Both Beginners and Veterans)

NFT scams are incredibly common, but some truly take the cake. One such scam, the Evolved Apes rug pull, made headlines in Autumn of 2021 when the project’s developers disappeared with $2.7 million of investment funds.

The Evolved Apes founders promised users a game in which they could pit the NFT apes they owned against each other for a chance to win Ethereum. And while investors did get their NFTs (which sold out in less than ten minutes), the game was never made. Instead, after selling the NFTs, the developers withdrew 798 ETH intended for the game’s development and vanished into thin air. It’s still unknown who these people are or what they’ve done with these funds.

The Crypto Industry Is Exciting But Dangerous

With huge amounts of crypto being stolen weekly, it’s crucial to be as careful as possible when buying, selling, or investing in anything to avoid losing big bucks to savvy cybercriminals. When it comes to crypto, it pays to stay on alert, and doing a little extra research or thinking twice can truly help you dodge a bullet.


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