In 2013, James Altucher called bitcoin “a fad, or a scam, or a ponzi scheme, or worse.”
Now, he’s become the face of the bitcoin bubble, appearing in ads across the internet touting the cryptocurrency — along with his paid newsletters with titles like, “Bitcoin Expert Reveals 3-Step Secret To Retire Rich.”
Altucher is just one of a growing number of internet self-help gurus that have embraced bitcoin as the future, a way for you — yes, you — to get rich. It’s a pitch built on a dangerous combination: Dreams of riches and ignorance of a new, highly volatile market.
And all you have to do is subscribe to their newsletters.
“I guarantee you’ll see how to make 10 times your money in the next 12 months,” Altucher states on a website for one of his “free” webinars.
As the price of bitcoin has soared in recent months, Altucher’s face has begun to pop up all over the internet to promote his get-rich-quick-off-bitcoin plan. His likeness is now so common around the internet that people are starting to notice him. Banner ads, YouTube ads, paid search results — he’s become the “bitcoin ad guy.”
This isn’t terribly surprising. Neeraj Agrawal, director of communications at Coin Center, a cryptocurrency policy thinktank based in Washington, D.C., noted that similar schemes have been around for years in the investment world.
“With all the focus on cryptocurrencies and the stories of early adopters striking it rich, it’s not surprising to see these types of promoters jumping in. These are same investment advice schemes we have seen for decades in the stock market but now in a shiny new cryptocurrency wrapper,” Agrawal wrote in an email.
Altucher may have inadvertently turned into something of an internet joke, but his career as a self-help author and financial expert were once reasonably legit. A New York Times profile from August 2016 called him a “former tech entrepreneur, venture capitalist and financial pundit [who] has reinvented himself as a gimlet-eyed self-help guru.” He has several successful motivational, self-help, financial guidance books and a popular podcast. That was before he jumped on the bitcoin boom.
Now, he’s trying to lure people into bitcoin and, in turn, his investment newsletter and service, the “Altucher Report” (for the low, low price of $49 for the first year). He’s also started a “Crypto Trader” newsletter that claims will “be your guide through the explosive digital currency market and find you the best currencies to invest in today.”
Altucher’s sudden internet celebrity comes just as the bitcoin boom appears to have peaked. The cryptocurrency has turned once-flailing business owners into millionaires and fueled dreams of overnight fortunes built on bitcoin’s seemingly unstoppable rise. Google searches for bitcoin now outpace searches for the Kardashians. Altucher claims his own cryptocurrency investment pulled in $1.8 million from a single $25,000 trade.
A frenzy like bitcoin is inevitably followed by scammers and bullshit artists who prey on misunderstanding, confusion, and dreams of sudden riches. Altucher, whether he really deserves it or not, is now one of the faces of that growing online industry, looking to make money off people’s bitcoin fever.
Pierre Rochard, a software engineer and cofounder of the Satoshi Nakamoto Institute, said that he’s noticed the rise of these kinds of “gurus,” who generally just collect and package information.
“I haven’t subscribed so I don’t know what he’s actually saying in the newsletters,” Rochard said. “What I do know is that all the information that one would need to know about whether they want to invest in bitcoin or cryptocurrency assets is publicly available and freely available on the internet.”
There’s no shortage of people willing to pontificate on the future of cryptocurrencies, but no one knows what will become of the volatile coin just as no one can predict any market — let alone one as new and volatile as bitcoin. Anyone who claims otherwise is a scammer. It doesn’t help that Altucher’s growing notoriety has coincided with the recent correction in which bitcoin shed thousands of dollars in value. At the end of 2017, Bitcoin was trading at around $14,700. Just a few weeks ago it was up almost 2,000 percent from the start of the year at $19,922.
Altucher is far from alone. Tai Lopez, another self-help “guru,” has embraced bitcoin and started making money off investment advice — something that hasn’t benefitted people who invested after the cryptocurrency peaked. Teeka Tiwari, like Altucher, charges big bucks for a newsletter that recommends buying certain cryptocurrencies.
“Good grief. I hope nobody really sent them any money. It all seemed geared toward the Florida Retiree Crowd, if you know what I mean,” wrote a particularly unsatisfied customer who had been attracted by Tiwari’s offer of giving away a billion dollars worth of bitcoin.
This fucking #bitcoin genius is every fucking where! Are people really paying this guy for his shitty reports and products?, ugh so much free info in Youtube and in here and people rather pay someone like @tailopez and this guys 😒 #Crypto #Altcoins $BTC pic.twitter.com/4T46WWWcNS
— KinGeeK (@TheK1ng33k) December 19, 2017
Altucher did not respond to emails requesting an interview.
Agrawal recommended that people do their own research and learn about cryptocurrencies — and resist getting seduced into viewing any investments as a way to get rich.
“Rather than focus on how to maximize their portfolio, a potential investor would be better served by taking the time to learn the bigger picture of cryptocurrency and the role it will play in the future of decentralized internet infrastructure,” he wrote.
And, in general, it’s always good to be skeptical of anything promising a guaranteed return like Altucher’s plea: “Click the Button Below to Get Started on Your Path to Retiring a Millionaire.”
Jason Abbruzzese contributed to this article.