Players increasingly get scammed when trading Pi currency in Vietnam

By Bao Lam   April 12, 2024 | 10:56 pm PT
Players increasingly get scammed when trading Pi currency in Vietnam
A person holds a smartphone showcasing a Pi cryptocurrency transaction. Photo by VnExpress/Bao Lam
Many players attempting to exchange Pi virtual currency on the Pi Network have been deceived and had their money stolen.

"Need to buy Pi at VND160,000, transfer money first and transfer Pi later, or meet directly for the transaction, will buy as much as available," an account named Thanh Dat posted on a Pi Network Facebook group with over 200,000 members.

Launched in 2019, the Pi Network project is still in the "closed mainnet" phase, meaning transactions can only occur between players, and it is not yet possible to trade on cryptocurrency exchanges.

The Pi in the "mainnet wallet," known as "purple Pi," can be exchanged between internal wallets.

Besides evading laws to buy and sell goods, many participants in the Pi Network also look to buy Pi from each other.

Van Huy, who has been trading cryptocurrency since 2020, said he currently owns 7,500 Pi.

Upon seeing Thanh Dat's post, he proactively contacted to sell.

This account said it would transfer a "deposit" first and pay the full amount upon receiving enough Pi.

"They sent VND200,000 as a deposit and asked me to video call, install a screen recording software they sent. After entering the passcode, all 3,500 Pi in the wallet disappeared," Huy said.

"I contacted the account again but by then, it had been blocked."

Hoang Thuan also wanted to sell Pi and posted in a Facebook group, "Immediately, more than 10 accounts messaged saying they wanted to buy."

When I said I wanted to meet in person, they backed out, saying they would place a deposit and asked me to transfer Pi first," Thuan said.

He has yet to go through with it for fear of being scammed.

Duy Anh, an administrator of a Pi cryptocurrency Facebook group with over 160,000 members, said the frequency of Pi trading topics in the group has surged since late last year.

However, only a small portion genuinely wants to buy, while most are scams.

"Every day, I receive 5-10 complaints from members about being cheated into transferring Pi to buyers but not receiving money," Anh said.

According to this administrator, the common method scammers have used is posting that they are in need of buying Pi at higher prices than usual, and then "deposit" a small amount of money to make them look credible, aiming to lure sellers into transferring all their Pi to them.

Scammers may also ask sellers to video call, record their smartphone screen during the transaction, but the main goal is to steal the phrase to unlock the wallet.

Some may require transactions through third-party websites, which are actually links containing malware to steal wallet keys and other information on the smartphone.

Vo Do Thang, director of the HCMC-based Athena Cybersecurity Training and Management Center, said a common method to steal online accounts and cryptocurrency wallets was sending files or links containing malicious software.

"If the victim clicks on it, the malware can automatically download to the device and proceed to steal the user's account. Once the device is compromised, the malware will take over the account and withdraw all the money, leaving the user helpless," he said.

According to regulations, trading virtual currency is against Vietnamese laws.

Therefore, participants - both sellers and buyers - may face legal risks.

Currently, there have been no recorded cases of transactions using Pi being prosecuted.

However, at the end of last June, the Ministry of Public Security stated that it had coordinated with local police to investigate the activities of Pi.

"The operations of cryptocurrency models like Pi have been exceedingly complex and unmanaged recently," said Le Xuan Minh, the Department of Cybersecurity and High-Tech Crime Prevention.

"There is no other business activity that can generate such high levels of income online."

There have been signs of people being coerced by cryptocurrency promoters into business models resembling multi-marketing models, he said, adding that police forces in multiple localities are investigating activities regarding the Pi cryptocurrency.

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