Celebrity investment scams are forecast to double this year as desperate savers chase higher returns.
Cryptocurrency scams using fake endorsements from the rich and famous have risen by more than 60pc since the end of last year, according to Santander, with the bank predicting an 87pc rise in 2022.
Consumer champion Martin Lewis, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and television presenter Holly Willoughby are among the household names to be used by fraudsters to con naive investors.
Spooked investors have also been handing over more cash to scammers this year after global markets lost 12pc in the past six months. The average victim lost almost £12,000 to “celebrity endorsed” scams in the first three months of this year, 65pc more than the same period in 2021.
The scam adverts typically appear online and on social media and ask victims to share their details to find out more about the investment. A scammer then calls the victim and peddles high pressure tactics to promise high-risk cryptocurrency investment.
The victim could then also be told to download specialist software to support their cryptocurrency portfolio. Once money has been deposited in the account the criminal uses the software to freeze the victim’s access and steal their money.
In one case a Santander customer was duped by an advert for cryptocurrency investment falsely claiming to be endorsed by Martin Lewis, of MoneySavingExpert.
After sharing his details he was contacted by a scammer who persuaded him to transfer thousands of pounds into a cryptocurrency account. The criminal encouraged the victim to lie to his bank about the reason for the transfer, claiming Santander would “not want him investing in cryptocurrency”.
Only after speaking with his family and following more requests for money from the criminal did he realise he had been scammed.
Mr Lewis said: “Scammers are sophisticated, clever and psychologically adept. The idea that you’re a fool if you fall for them is outdated. I’ve heard of solicitors, accountants and university lecturers all falling for scams.
“Scamming my face and brand is a deliberate perversion of my life’s work helping consumers become financially savvy and protecting themselves.”
Tony Neate of campaign group Get Safe Online said the cost of living crisis was pushing people to turn to “quick fixes to earn some extra cash”.
Mr Neate said: “Investing is something to be done after serious thought and consideration, not in response to a quick opportunity you might have seen on social media or the internet. If it feels too good to be true it probably is and you should never rush into making an investment.”
Chris Ainsley, of Santander, said: “We’re seeing a worrying rise in ‘celebrity-endorsed’ cryptocurrency scams, where familiar faces are being misused on social media in order to con people out of often life-changing sums of money.
“Always do your homework and thoroughly research any investment opportunity before moving any funds - irrespective of who is supposedly endorsing it.”