Fact-check Malta: Don’t get duped – well-known Maltese people are the subject of a new crypto scam

What do Malta’s former prime minister, a podcaster and a journalist have in common? 

They and others are the subject of a new scam circulating locally on social media.

Cyber scams are becoming more sophisticated, though this latest one is not particularly ingenious. Consisting of posts identical in form and content, most savvy viewers will smell a rat at a glance. The only difference between the posts are the images they use – and this is also what makes them worth noting.

The posts imitate well-known Maltese people from politics and the media, some of whom are household names. Amongst the ones we have seen are former prime minister Joseph Muscat, former minister Evarist Bartolo, television personality Peppi Azzopardi, podcaster Jon Mallia, and journalist Caroline Muscat.

Each of the posts uses stills from real interviews, but the actual content of the interviews is fabricated to contain the kind of thing one is accustomed to seeing in similar crypto scams. And all of the posts lead to a clone of the website of a local news portal, MaltaToday

One page emulates a recent interview carried out by former PM Joseph Muscat with a local TV station, another takes its inspiration from an interview between TV presenter Peppi Azzopardi and popular podcaster Jon Mallia, a third features former minister Evarist Bartolo interviewed by journalist Saviour Balzan on a local TV station last year. In each case, the conversation is virtually identical, with the interviewee talking about how they made a fortune by investing in the fraudulent crypto platform.

To drive the point home, interviews all use a screenshot of the same bank statement adorned with the letterhead of the Central Bank of Malta, presumably to make the venture appear more credible.

It is not clear whether this coordinated scam is local in origin. Still, some of the personalities featured in the posts are relatively niche figures, suggesting that there is an element of local knowledge involved in their creation. If the scam stems from somewhere beyond Malta’s shores, it exemplifies the growing adeptness scammers are displaying in adapting to the local context. Using known Maltese names and faces is a strategy of appearing legitimate to the followers and supporters of said names and faces, making it more likely to lure the public into getting swindled.

Examining two of the fake posts: a few pointers

How to spot a social media scam: Most readers must be experts by now, but one should always be on one’s guard. Sensational stories, dramatic wording, overused exclamation marks and bad punctuation are obvious red flags. Sometimes, deepfakes are used. Look at the pages sharing the post, and the interactions with it. If what you see looks fishy, report it.

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Fact Check, Politics, Society

Author(s): Department of Media and Communications

Originally published here.