Investors had plenty of reason to believe the news was true: A verified litecoin Twitter account tweeted out a link to the announcement, which had appeared on the press release service GlobeNewswire. The press release looked legitimate enough, including (made-up) quotes from Walmart CEO Doug McMillon. Walmart had just posted a job for a cryptocurrency expert to work at its corporate headquarters. And several major news organizations picked up the news.
It’s not yet clear who the scammers are, but the scheme is likely a pump and dump. That’s when people buy an asset and drive up the price — typically with fake news — only to sell it once the price starts soaring.
GlobeNewswire removed the press release minutes after CNN reached out, and it issued a correction, urging investors and the media to ignore the announcement.
A spokesperson for Intrado, the service’s parent company, said in an email that a “fraudulent user account” was created to issue the fake release. The service has stepped up its authentication measures and pledged a full investigation into how its systems were tripped.
Although the press release appeared authentic at first glance, it contained some telltale signs of fake news. It contained the bogus “walmart-corp.com” website as the email address for Walmart’s chief marketing officer. It used an partial title for McMillon. And it was the first and only press release Walmart had issued on GlobeNewswire.
Pump and dump schemes are typically reserved for less-regulated markets, such as penny stocks and cryptocurrencies, where regulators and investors have less insight into the markets and less ability to to suss out criminal activity. Although unusual, the falsified press release of a company the size of Walmart was not the first of its kind.