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NFT scam in India sees 71-year-old digital artist losing money in bogus platform fees

nft-scam-in-india-sees-71-year-old-digital-artist-losing-money-in-bogus-platform-fees
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NFT scam in India sees 71-year-old digital artist losing money in bogus platform fees

A 71-year-old digital artist in India fell victim to scammers pretending to be an NFT art dealer.

According to a local report, Shivaprasad R (name changed), a practicing chartered accountant (CA), lost INR 1.58 lakhs (approximately $1895) in fees to the scammers who promised to buy out his art.

Shivaprasad is a professional artist whose work has been featured in several local exhibitions and posted on Instagram and Facebook. In October 2023, the scammers, claiming to be an “NFT art dealer,” introduced the artist to a platform dubbed nfttradeplace.com.

The scammer told the victim that they would like to purchase his paintings for 42 ETH, or INR 1.09 crore, a significant sum in India. The negotiations were all held virtually, via email and Facebook.

The digital artist took up the offer and listed three of his artworks for  10 ETH and another one for 12 ETH. On February 1, 2024, the victim was asked to pay 0.115 ETH to the scammer’s platform as a “gas fee.”

“The victim made the payment from his crypto wallet, which he set up at the scammer’s behest,” a cybercrime investigator was quoted saying.

Following the completion of his first sale, the artist requested a withdrawal of 6 ETH from his earnings. However, despite waiting for days, no transaction was initiated. Upon checking again, Shivaprasad was asked to pay a “delay fee” for supposedly holding up the withdrawal of his cryptocurrency.

“This delay fee was never discussed nor was it exhibited on the website,” the victim said in a statement.

He added that since he wasn’t in possession of any ETH, he had requested the scammers to accept the delay fees in fiat currency. The scammers agreed to this request, and the victim went on to make four payments to the accounts of Mohammed Ekramul Haque and Mohammad Farooq. It has not been confirmed whether these people are the masterminds behind this scam.

Shivaprasad made the last payment to the scammers on March 15. He noted that the platform “kept asking [him] for further payments” to be able to withdraw his 6 ETH. 

This was when the victim realized that his NFT clients had duped him. On April 17, the victim contacted the cyber police and filed charges under  66C (punishment for identity theft) and 66D (punishment for cheating by personation by using computer resources) of the Information Technology (IT) Act and 420 (cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

“It is highly difficult to trace cryptocurrency trails. As of now, bank details and domain details of the email address used by the scammers have been sought,” an officer familiar with the matter said.

Cryptocurrency scams have seen a significant uptick in India, despite crackdowns from local authorities. Last week, the nation’s Enforcement Directorate (ED) launched an investigation into a $800 million Ponzi scheme involving a Bollywood celebrity. 

Prior to that, a job recruitment scam was flagged in the nation, which saw scammers draining their victims’ crypto wallets using spyware disguised as applications touted as essential for the onboarding process.