Right-Wing Email Scammers Want You to Invest in Cryptocurrencies
Bitcoin is the new gold!
If you’re a regular reader of Breitbart News, you may have noticed a relatively new genre of advertisements in your inbox. They are hopeful, even promising messages, offering recipients exclusive financial advice that will massively boost their retirement savings.
The trick comes down to a simple investment: Bitcoin.
“Turn a single $100 bill into a retirement fortune,” one ad reads, “in a matter of months.”
Putting one’s money in bitcoin is—most financial experts would insist—not the safest investment for someone to make, let alone a person nearing or in retirement. But those very people happen to be the primary readers of conservative websites. And advertisers have long viewed conservative newsletters and email marketing campaigns as an effective way to hawk their products.
It is, in many ways, the new gold rush, only with a vastly different political context.
For years, advertisers used conservative media to pitch gold as a logical investment in the context of the sensational news headlines of the day. The marketing push hit its heyday during the financial crisis, when it often followed conspiratorial predictions of economic collapse by pundits such as, most notably, Glenn Beck.
With Donald Trump in the White House and an economy considerably improved from nine years ago, claims of an impending government-induced financial collapse don’t have the same appeal to conservative news consumers. So advertisers are instead marketing cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ethereum by promising get-rich-quick schemes, eye-popping returns, and promises of a massive nest-egg for seniors and retirees, without any of the potential downsides.
Take, for example, a November advertising email on Breitbart’s mailing list.
“Dear Reader,” the email read. “Something must have went wrong…Because we still need you to confirm your address for your FREE 6-part video Cryptocurrency Masterclass.”
Readers who click the link in that email were directed to a lengthy video hocking a newsletter by author and hedge fund manager James Altucher. For just $100, the ad says, Altucher would share his secret to financial bliss. Returns, the ad says, could exceed 81,000%.
Who wouldn’t click!?!
The ads may seem like the digital act of low-rate hucksters. But they are actually the product of a fine-tuned marketing scheme.
It is Baltimore-based Agora Financial that is predominantly responsible for the conservative media bitcoin push. The publishing company has advertised by way of prominent conservative personalities for years, pitching products ranging from financial advice to homeopathic supplements.
“Our customers don’t pay us to be right,” Agora founder Bill Bonner told Mother Jones for a 2015 story. “And we’re certainly not paid to be timid. Instead, we’re expected only to be diligent and honest, and to explore the unconventional, the often disreputable, and always edgy shades of the idea spectrum. And our customers have the last say. If they don’t like what we offer, they don’t buy.”
The company appears to have found a new cryptocurrency cash cow, and is marketing investment advice on that front through other prominent conservative websites, such as Stone Cold Trump, the online home of Trump booster and Republican provocateur Roger Stone.
An October email sent under Stone’s name introduced readers to the Oxford Club, another Agora-affiliated company that promises even bigger cryptocurrency returns. It claims that one bitcoin, valued at under $11,000 as of this writing, will soon be worth seven figures. “In fact, if you run the numbers,” the video accompanying the ad claims, “you’ll see that ‘bitcoin $1 million’ is actually a mathematical certainty.”
“Please note,” the email promoting the office read, “that the following message reflects the opinions and representations of our sponsor alone, and not necessarily the opinion of Roger Stone.”
These sorts of ads have sprung up on a host of right-wing websites and email newsletters. And while some, such as Breitbart and Stone’s website, are prominent brands, others appear to exist for little reason but to sell advertisements.
Winning America, for instance, is a conservative news website that seemingly does little in the news department. It aggregates stories, builds email lists off of that aggregation, and markets the email lists to advertisers. The company behind the website, Winning America Wire LLC, was incorporated in Texas in August. It doesn’t list any officers, but its registered agent is the Najvar Law Firm in Houston, which is led by Republican campaign finance attorney Jerad Najvar. He did not respond to a request for comment.
Winning America sends up to five emails per day to its subscribers. The majority of those emails are advertisements. Since its founding last year, the group has sent more than two dozen sponsored emails regarding bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.
Some of those ads have come from Agora. Some of the advertisers have pushed more traditional precious metal investment advice. At least one has branched out to various markets. That advertiser, Goldco, pitches itself as “one of the premier Precious Metals IRA companies in the United States.” But it recently started a subsidiary, CoinIRA, devoted entirely to cryptocurrencies, and is now marketing bitcoin-based retirement funds through conservative email newsletters.
“Bitcoin could triple your IRA/401(k) value,” claimed one of Goldco’s Winning America emails last week. The page to which it directed recipients included a line of considerable appeal to a more conservative audience: “Today’s banks are tightly regulated by the government: Bitcoin gives you control of your own money.”
That aside illustrates the essence of the conservative appeal of many of these advertisements. Just as suspicions regarding economic policy during the Barack Obama presidency led conservatives and talk-radio listeners to value gold, it is the inherent liberation of the cryptocurrency that is its selling point in the Trump era.
But not every advertiser is making the shift. Some, indeed, seem content to hedge their bets when it comes to bitcoin’s uncertain future.
“When Bitcoin crashes, Gold will soar to $5000,” read an ad in a recent newsletter from the popular website RedState. Those who clicked through didn’t find anything about bitcoin; it was just another pitch to buy gold.