Thousands of radical are believed to person mislaid their savings aft investing successful a cryptocurrency trading app called iEarn Bot.
Experts who person investigated the institution accidental it could beryllium 1 of the largest crypto scandals to date.
Trading successful cryptocurrencies has go popular, with radical often promised ample rewards implicit abbreviated periods.
But instrumentality enforcement agencies pass of a increasing fig of scams and urge investors behaviour "due diligence".
'The wealth conscionable disappeared'
Roxana, not her existent name, is from Romania. She says she mislaid hundreds of euros erstwhile she invested successful iEarn Bot. She asked not to person her individuality revealed arsenic she fears her nonrecreational estimation mightiness beryllium damaged.
Customers buying the bots - similar Roxana - were told their concern would beryllium handled by the company's artificial quality programme, guaranteeing precocious returns.
"I invested successful a bot for 1 month," Roxana tells the BBC. "You could spot successful the app however galore dollars the app was creating: determination were graphics showing however the concern was progressing.
"It looked rather nonrecreational until, astatine immoderate point, they announced maintenance." At that point, for immoderate time, withdrawals from the app were frozen.
"Some radical started to accidental 'I cannot withdraw... what is happening'," explains Roxana. "I made the petition to retreat and the wealth conscionable disappeared. The portfolio became zero - but I was ne'er credited connected my wallet with immoderate money."
In Romania, dozens of high-profile figures, including authorities officials and academics, were persuaded to put via the app due to the fact that it was sponsored by Gabriel Garais, a starring IT adept successful the country.
Mr Garais says helium excessively was fooled into investing his ain savings successful the app and mislaid his money.
But Roxana insists, had it not been for Garais's sponsorship, she would person ne'er considered investing.
"We had the cognition to deliberation this mightiness beryllium a scam," she says, "but the information that, successful betwixt america and the institution determination was a reputable teacher, meant that we didn't cheque excessively overmuch - we didn't uncertainty excessively much."
What happened successful Romania is not an isolated incident. Nor is it unsocial to Romania.
When Silvia Tabusca, a Romanian organised transgression adept from the European Center for Legal Education and Research, began looking into iEarn Bot, she discovered that galore radical successful different countries had besides mislaid their wealth successful the scheme.
What amazed her astir was the standard of the operation.
"From what we person seen, the fig of investors is rather high," she says. "In Indonesia, for example, they [iEarn Bot] assertion they had 800,000 customers."
"At archetypal the app works precise well," says Ms Tabusca.
"When they person capable investors and capable wealth invested successful a circumstantial country, they don't let that state to retreat immoderate much - and they unfastened different countries."
iEarn Bot presents itself arsenic a US-based institution with fantabulous credentials, but erstwhile the BBC fact-checked immoderate accusation connected its website, it raised immoderate reddish flags.
The antheral whom the tract names arsenic the company's laminitis told america helium had ne'er heard of them. He said helium has made a ailment to the police.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, alongside companies specified arsenic Huawei and Qualcomm, are each named arsenic "strategic partners" of iEarn Bot, but they excessively said they person nary cognition of the institution and they are not moving with it.
On the website, the institution does not supply immoderate interaction information. When the BBC checked the past of its Facebook page, we learned that until the extremity of 2021, the relationship was advertizing weight-loss products. It is managed from Vietnam and Cambodia.
iEarn Bot places a large accent connected pushing investors to enlistee much radical to articulation the app.
"The mode radical successful this institution run is much akin to a Ponzi scheme, than an existent business," says Ms Tabusca.
The BBC has besides seen chat conversations wherever people, who assertion to beryllium from iEarn Bot's lawsuit service, told investors that successful bid to retreat their money, they indispensable wage a 30% fee.
"Some radical were rather hopeless to get their wealth back, truthful they paid the interest - but they inactive couldn't withdraw," says Ms Tabusca.
The BBC has repeatedly approached iEarn Bot for remark but truthful acold it has not responded.
In immoderate countries, specified arsenic Nigeria and Colombia, section leaders were pushed by iEarn Bot mentors - with whom they lone ever communicated connected Telegram - to organise recruiting events.
Andres, from Colombia, said helium actively recruited radical to articulation the app. He inactive believes the institution is legitimate.
"They had their registration successful the US that showed they were legit," helium says. "And they were paying."
In his country, withdrawals were stopped successful December. People were told the institution was transforming concern successful USDT - a well-established cryptocurrency - into a caller coin called iBot, which had the aforesaid value.
Investors were asked to beryllium diligent until March, erstwhile the caller coin was expected to beryllium officially launched. But radical are inactive waiting to entree their money.
"[People] took loans to invest. They utilized wealth from different sources, galore radical were affected," says Andres. "As the section leaders did not person answers, radical started to get angry."
With the assistance of an analyst, the BBC managed to place 1 main crypto wallet that received payments from astir 13,000 imaginable victims, for a nett of astir $1.3m (£1m) successful little than 1 year.
But we could not way down wherever and to whom the wealth went.
For investigators, this is simply a communal issue.
"One of the challenges is to place and property who the illicit histrion is, wherever the worth is going, and past being capable to instrumentality investigative steps and instrumentality enforcement action," says John Wyman, main of the FBI's caller Virtual Assets Unit.
Investigations successful this benignant of scheme, helium says, spell planetary quickly.
Such investigations necessitate planetary co-operation and whitethorn instrumentality longer, but helium insists that those liable are yet brought to justice.
The FBI acceptable up the Virtual Assets Unit past twelvemonth successful bid to respond to the increasing fig of crimes utilizing virtual currencies.
It invites radical who person been victims of scams to marque a ailment connected the FBI's dedicated page.
But instrumentality enforcement agencies support the champion mode to combat scammers remains prevention.
"Knowledge - and doing immoderate owed diligence earlier the concern - it's critical," says Mr Wyman.
"It's similar everything else: if it sounds excessively bully to beryllium true, it often is."
Watch the afloat study connected Click