Austrian authorities have launched an investigation of a bitcoin scam called Optioment, that has cheated over 10 000 people out of an estimate of 12 000 bitcoins (around $115 million), reports Bloomberg, quoting the local newspaper Die Presse. Reportedly, the scheme affected people from Germany, Poland, Romania and some former Yugoslavian republics, but most of the victims are Austrian. The Austrian police has received hundreds of complaints.
According to the report, the authorities have identified to persons behind the scheme – a citizen of Denmark and a citizen of Latvia and have asked Interpol to track them down. Allegedly a German citizen is also involved.
Optioment ran a classical Ponzi scheme with elements of MLM, luring investors with promises of impressive returns of 1.5%-4% per week on their deposited bitcoins. The deposits were for fixed periods of six months to two years. Investors were also rewarded for bringing new users into the scheme.
The scam ran a website, now offline, claiming it is a “premier global Bitcoin investment product” stemming from a “private Costa Rica-based bitcoin fund”. Allegedly the scheme had an investment platform backed by assets worth over 35,000 BTC. It was touting itself as “safe” and “anonymous” and was promising “100% satisfaction guarantee” and shouldering all the risks.
Ronald Frankl, a lawyer of some of the victims, told Die Presse that the scheme was promoted by “the three Musketeers” – three Austrians hosting special events in Austria and Germany. Initially the scheme was paying up the promised returns, but in late November and early December the payments stopped and victims started contacting Frankl and other lawyers.
The Austrian financial markets and services watchdog FMA reported the scheme to the prosecutors at the end of January, spokesman Klaus Grubelnik told Die Presse. As Optioment didn’t offer services that required a license, the FMA couldn’t take any action, but transferred the files because it suspected the website was a front for a pyramid scheme, he explained.