On 9 July, the Times of India’s Sunday edition carried a full front-page advertisement for Cryptocurrency for Beginners: an e-book written by the entrepreneur Amit Bhardwaj, priced at a steep Rs 1,499. The ad boasted that the book was “Introducing everyone to the world of cryptocurrencies and how it is changing the financial landscape.” Around the same time, Bhardwaj also issued front-page ads in other major dailies, including The Hindu, the Economic Times and Dainik Jagaran.
The promotional campaign for Cryptocurrency for Beginners has been extensive. In addition to the newspaper ads, sponsored posts ran on several publications—prominentIndianoutlets such as NDTV’s Profit, Hindu Business Line, and the Indian Express, as well as cryptocurrency-focussedwebsitessuch as the Bitcoin News and News BTC. The official site on which people can purchase Bhardwaj’s book even displays links to effusive tweets about it from a handful of celebrities, among them the actors Shilpa Shetty, Vir Das and Nargis Fakhri.
Cryptocurrencies—digital currencies built on an innovative technology called blockchain—have attracted much attention from investors in recent months. Blockchain technology is essentially a distributed database that acts as a public ledger. Each transaction on most blockchain-based currencies is recorded and transmitted to every node in a worldwide network of computers. The oldest and most popular cryptocurrency, bitcoin, which pioneered the blockchain, has more than tripled in price since the start of 2017, climbing from about $998 on 1 January to $3,574 on 11 August—an all-time high.
Likely catering to those hungry for a piece of such profits, the ads for Bhardwaj’s book promised that its purchase would come with “Rs 1,200 worth of cryptocurrency, free.” But a brief look beneath the surface of Cryptocurrency for Beginners reveals that, not only is the book of little educational value on its own, its promotional campaign is also part of an attempt to lure investors into his dubious business schemes. This is only Bhardwaj’s most recent ruse: in a cover story for The Caravan’s March 2017 issue, I examined the Ponzi-like workings of Gainbitcoin, a multi-layer marketing company he runs. The story details how Bhardwaj’s company is selling a supposed cloud-mining scheme to its investors, and promising them unrealistic returns—the nature of which suggest that his business plan is dubious at best, and at worst, a grand scam.