Urgent warning over fake Martin Lewis bitcoin scam that’s losing people £80,000 – here’s how to stay safe

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INVESTORS have been warned about a fake Martin Lewis bitcoin scam which cost one elderly couple their life savings.

Retired Barbara and Ewan Atkins (not their real names) lost £80,000 to the fraudster who pretended to be endorsed by the money saving expert.

The MoneySavingExpert website says it nor Martin Lewis ever endorse a product or investment

The conman convinced the pair, both 78, to use popular e-money platform Revolut to avoid fraud checks.

He explained how to set up accounts with Wise, Binance and Revolut, which the couple had not heard of, before giving them details on how to avoid triggering fraud prevention processes.

But when the attempted to withdraw their money and were told they needed to make more payments, they realised they had been scammed.

They told their daughter and son-in-law, who contacted the banks in order to report the fraud.

The family say though Revolut’s response was not sufficient, particularly when they were contacted about their complaint and it included links to a foodbank website and Age UK.

Concerns about Revolut’s ability to deal with fraud cases and money laundering have been raised by senior industry insiders who say the e-money institution, which is not a bank in the UK, is the “vehicle of choice” for fraudsters.

Having moved back to the UK from France, they spotted an advert for Bitcoin online in late February.

It appeared to be backed by the consumer champion Martin Lewis and thought it would be a good way to stretch out their savings.

Having clicked on the link, they were then called by a man calling himself Michael Hampton whose apparent online profile made him out to be some “dynamic international investor”.

He convinced them that their bank, Barclays, would question their large transactions and that they should tell them they were planning a big purchase.

Barclays did flag the payments as being unusual and contacted the couple to make sure they were happy to move the money.

The conman then told the pair how to create an account with Wise, a foreign exchange service started in 2011, so they could invest in Bitcoin.

They transferred £10,000 to the account, which was flagged by Wise and the account was closed.

SET UP REVOLUT ACCOUNT

The scammer then talked the couple into setting up a Revolut account, saying that only the first payment would be flagged on the system.

They made 14 transactions of between £3,000 and £5,000 over the next few days, encouraged by the “investment manager” who phoned them repeatedly each day.

While the first transaction did prompt a warning message from Revolut none of the other transactions were challenged.

The elderly couple got daily updates on their nearly £65,000 “investment” which they were told had almost doubled in just four weeks.

However, when they attempted to withdraw the money, the fraudsters told them they had to pay £10,000 for capital gains tax.

It was then they realised they had been conned and told their daughter and son-in-law.

When they got in touch with Barclays fraud team that they realised just how much money had been lost.

The bank said that because it has warned them about the payments and called them before the money left their account it would not refund the money they had lost.

Revolut initially told the couple there had been “no trace” of fraudulent activity and then said they would not reimburse them.

It sent a number of links, in the hope that “this information helps you understand the situation and stay safe in the future”.

‘DISGUSTED’

Their son-in-law and daughter told the MailOnline they were “disgusted” at how dismissive Revolut had been.

They said they were amazed the fraud processes at the online platform hadn’t picked up the unusual payments quicker and the initial response from Revolut said they weren’t fraudulent.

Their daughter said: “It’s a permanent weight on our minds. We were shell-shocked as well that my parents had been scammed like that.”

She added that sending a link to a foodbank showed Revolut’s lack of interest, insensitivity and lackadaisical approach.

She said: “Everybody knows about foodbanks, so we didn’t need to see that as a link from Revolut.”

The pensioners have now taken their case to the financial ombudsman.

A senior industry insider, a director of compliance at a large firm, said Revolut was the “vehicle of choice” for money launderers and fraudsters.

Figures quoted by the news outlet suggest Revolut has been struggling with protecting customers against fraud, with the number of crime reports made to Action Fraud rising from 3,975 in 2021 to 7,198 last year, an increase of 81 per cent.

Those figures also account for cases where the fraudsters funnel money through Revolut accounts, or when an identity has been stolen and fake account created.

In early March, Revolut, which offers current account services but is not a bank in the UK, said it would be getting its banking licence “imminently”.

Revolut is not signed up to the Contingent Reimbursement Model (CFM) in the UK, which is a voluntary agreement between banks that they will repay victims of some kinds of fraud.

A Wise spokesman said: “We are truly sorry to learn of the scam Mr and Mrs Atkins have fallen victim to.

“We’re currently investigating the case and will be in touch with them directly regarding updates on the remaining funds.”

Gareth Shaw, deputy editor at Martin Lewis’s website MoneySavingExpert.com, said: “Sadly, this is similar to scams we’ve been seeing for years.

“Please know – and spread the word if you can – that neither MoneySavingExpert nor Martin Lewis ever endorse products or investments.

“Here at MSE, we find it so frustrating and disheartening that many scammers get away with it.

“It’s why MSE and Martin Lewis have always tried to close down their routes to the general public and create awareness through campaigning.”

A Barclays spokesperson said: “We have every sympathy with our customer who was a victim of a sophisticated investment scam.

“We urge everyone to stay vigilant to fraudulent investment opportunities.

“Please take steps to satisfy yourself that the person or business you are investing through is legitimate and who you think it is, and check the FCA website and warning list to ensure they are a regulated financial firm before transferring any funds. 

“Remember, if the investment seems too good to be true, it probably is.’

A Revolut spokesman said: “We are very sorry that Mr and Mrs Atkins were targeted by ruthless and highly sophisticated criminals.

“We take our responsibility to protect and support our customers extremely seriously and have made significant investments in our systems, processes and people to ensure that our customers are safe.

“When making an investment, we urge everyone to take steps to satisfy themselves that the person they are sending money to is legitimate.

“We encourage customers to check the investment company is genuine and a regulated firm. If in doubt, seek trusted independent financial advice first.”

It said it was “deeply concerned” about fraud involving fake social media ads and fake phone calls.

The fraudsters encouraged the elderly couple to set a Revolut account