Rampant scams highlight critical need for greater crypto literacy
Cryptocurrency-related scams are proliferating at an alarming rate in the Philippines. As cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology surge in popularity, scammers are shamelessly capitalizing on the nation’s lack of crypto understanding. Their tools? Questionable coins, misleading non-fungible tokens, and a myriad of other Ponzi schemes disguised as groundbreaking investment strategies. They are targeting and succeeding in duping individuals, particularly those new to the technology.
Recent high-profile incidents that made the news headlines include the arrest of the so-called “crypto king” for a ₱100 million (US$1.8 million) scam and the charges brought forward by local artists against Cronus Holdings Corporation, accusing them of an ₱8 million (US$141,000) fraud.
In a concerning twist, some scams also roped Filipinos into their nefarious operations. The scale of these scams is so extensive that it drew the attention of the Senate. In November 2022, a network of non-governmental groups rescued 12 Filipinos who were coerced by an alleged Chinese criminal syndicate into soliciting online investments for fraudulent cryptocurrency sites.
This backdrop sets a concerning stage, marking the Philippines as the second most targeted nation in Southeast Asia for crypto phishing attacks last year. Kaspersky, a global security giant, identified gaming platforms and cryptocurrency wallets as the main hotspots for such illicit activities. This is all the more poignant considering the country’s previous standing as a top user of blockchain games like Axie Infinity.
Yet, there’s been a noticeable shift. Data from blockchain intelligence firm Chainalysis indicates a drop for the Philippines from the second to the sixth place this year in global crypto adoption. While industry leaders and pioneers remain optimistic, this decline can be attributed to several dynamics, including rising competition against emerging nations aggressively adopting blockchain technology. However, the shadow of these scam stories, instilling fear and mistrust, undoubtedly also played a significant role in this shift. The narrative underscores the dire need for enhanced awareness, education and protective measures in the crypto landscape.
Financial literacy gaps fuel crypto investment hype
Among the many essential life skills, financial literacy is an important one. Many investors today are making decisions based on limited and superficial indicators, often leading to devastating impacts on their financial portfolios and overall well-being. Despite growing adoption, the crypto landscape is still full of fear, uncertainty, and doubt and, ultimately, riddled with misinformation.
For many Filipinos, their primary motivation for investing in cryptocurrencies lies in the promise of high returns on investment. They get blindsided by their pursuit of quick, high profits, and they often overlook the essential step of due diligence. It’s a rule of thumb: High rewards come with high risks.
It is also concerning to note that social media, including news, discussions and insights from experts and influencers, has become the primary funnel for cryptocurrency information. This not only magnifies the role of digital platforms in shaping perceptions but also underlines the need for discernment in distinguishing credible sources from mere noise.
On the flip side, those hesitant to take the plunge into investing in cryptocurrencies cite a lack of knowledge and understanding as their primary barrier. Others, while somewhat familiar, remain on the fence, dissuaded by the inherent risks, especially given the volatile and unpredictable nature of the market.
These attitudes and behaviors must be viewed against the broader backdrop of the nation’s financial literacy — or the lack thereof. The Philippines is languishing in the bottom 30 out of 144 countries for financial literacy, according to a global study by S&P Global Ratings. Further compounding this challenge is the fact that only 2% of Filipino adults can pass a basic financial literacy test, as indicated by a survey by the country’s central bank in 2021.
This unsettling reality underscores the urgent need for robust financial and crypto education, particularly as we navigate the intricate financial innovations of our times.
Push for crypto investment literacy
Financial literacy is more than just understanding money — it’s about empowerment. It’s about equipping individuals with the knowledge to discern between genuine opportunities and momentary hypes.
In a nation where cash is becoming less common, the methods we use to impart financial wisdom need to be updated. The old lessons about savings and piggy banks aren’t enough. We must adopt a modern approach that matches today’s financial realities.
Interestingly, there’s a palpable appetite among Filipinos to learn more about cryptocurrencies. They are eager to understand and expand their knowledge about the various cryptocurrencies and digital assets, decode the investment process, and potentially enter the market. Some are also keen to explore present use cases, practical applications, and real-world examples, suggesting a broader interest beyond mere monetary gains.
Remember the transformative leap in the early 2000s? Everyone was organically pushed to learn and embrace this change from offline to online connectivity. We’re at a similar pivotal point. Cryptocurrencies are pointing towards a future dominated by the digital realm, with careers centered around blockchain and crypto. We need to prepare and equip ourselves for what’s on the horizon.
Obtaining credible information about cryptocurrencies between 2014 to 2018 was like navigating a maze. Valuable sources were scattered across different forums. But times are changing. Major fintech leaders have recognized this knowledge gap and are actively introducing cryptocurrency courses to their users. Grassroots educational platforms are now teaching in local dialects, making information more accessible. The rise of events like the Philippine Blockchain Week and various on-ground educational caravans showcases a collective push towards educating the masses.
Beyond educating the average Filipino, it’s becoming increasingly important to enhance the crypto literacy of regulators. In a proactive stance, the Philippine government has initiated advanced sessions for its officials. The country’s Securities and Exchange Commission has released a draft proposal for a Regulatory Sandbox Framework to encourage technological innovation in the financial services sector and has opened the table for public feedback. The choices they make, especially without a deep-rooted comprehension, have the potential to sway public trust in this burgeoning sector.
The pressing need for crypto investment literacy isn’t just about staying updated; it’s about securing the nation’s financial future. The mantra “DYOR” or “Do Your Own Research” to capture the foundational ethos of the cryptocurrency realm isn’t enough. It’s vital to be proactive, to combine analytical thinking with anticipatory action, and to adopt a forward-looking mindset.