Bitcoin boom prompts deluge of bizarre cryptocurrency schemes cashing in on digital gold rush

Joe Sommerlad

Bitcoin's mid-December boom has sparked a renewed interest in cryptocurrency investment across the world - and some extremely strange goings-on as entrepreneurs speculate on the best way to capitalise on the digicoin gold rush.

The market leader's value stormed to an all-time high of $19,850 (£14,214) in the run-up to Christmas but has since dropped back to its customary $10,000 (£7,190) mark.

Competitors like ethereum, litecoin, ripple and bitcoin cash have all quietly prospered out of the limelight - but cryptocurriences remain a volatile proposition.

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Yesterday saw all but two of CoinMarketCap's top 50 cryptos decline in value, thought to be a reaction to the US Securities and Exchange and Commission declaring that all trading platforms will ultimately need to be registered and regulated to protect consumers.

All of this excitement has led to a number of bizarre developments as businesses (and scammers) think outside the box about the best way to enter a market worth a combined $405bn (£292bn).

First we had the bitcoin strip club, a Las Vegas lap dancing venue where the performers are branded with temporary tattoos of QR barcodes - allowing customers to tip them in bitcoin by scanning their thighs with smartphones.

Then Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro launched the petro, effectively a system of oil-backed tokens for paying taxes described by Matt O'Brien of The Washington Post as "one of the worst investments ever."

We've had cryptocurrencies for dentists, the Long Island Iced Tea Company and even a single malt-backed whisky currency from Scotland, CaskCoin. Steven Seagal has his own currency for crying out loud.

Bitcoin marketplace Paxful has meanwhile proposed that cryptocurrency investment could be the key to unlocking the potential of faltering African economies, providing an engine for growth likened to the miracle discovery of "vibranium" recently seen driving the Afrofuturist utopia of Wakanda in Marvel's latest blockbuster movie Black Panther.

Paxful's co-founder and CTO Artur Schaback elaborates:

"Many African nations have plentiful natural resources and a sizeable population that is highly educated. Additionally, a culture of entrepreneurship is common in many African cultures, most notably Nigeria. However, all the natural resources in the world don't mean much until they are taken out of the ground and turned into useable products.

"Imagine every path to starting your own business being cut off and being in a kind of 'financial prison'. This is the bleak reality Africans have had to face, until now. Cryptocurrency is truly the vibranium of Africa as it unlocks the work and effort of the people by giving them equal financial footing. Every single person who has seen the value of their savings evaporate thanks to rampant inflation as seen in Zimbabwe and even Nigeria knows that crypto offers an average of a 600 per cent return in a year as opposed to -40 per cent if they kept their native funds.

"Crypto helps put power back into the people's hands to do business and create wealth."

Many of the ideas currently floating around the sector are more about PR companies getting creative in order to leap aboard the blockchain bandwagon but all convey the very real excitement surrounding cryptocurrencies and their possibilities right now.

Investors are advised to remain cautious, however, as bitcoin and its rivals continue to fluctuate and are open to misuse by scammers and pirates, equally keen to exploit the hype.

While the unauthorised use of Ryan Gosling's likeness among Miroskii's management team was funny, Twitter accounts co-opting SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk's identity to dupe currency speculators is less so.

Musk is one of the most prominent tech innovators in the world and his legion of fans could easily be persuaded to part with their savings on the assumption that his endorsement was being given in good faith.

Even Apple's co-founder Steve Wozniak has admitted being caught out by coin scammers in the past, which is as clear a cautionary lesson as you could wish for.

Last weekend also saw a mass PC heist in Iceland, where 600 machines being used to mine bitcoin in the country's cool climes were stolen by raiders, showing the dramatic extents criminals are prepared to go to to cash in on the crypto boom. Be careful out there.