Phony Walmart News Release Signals a Crypto Pump-and-Dump Scheme

“We are digging into it further to understand what happened,” Mr. Hargrove said.

While the announcement appeared authentic — even including a statement purportedly from Walmart’s chief executive, Doug McMillon — there were clues it was fake. For one, it listed a contact email address at, an unauthorized website. Also, the press contact named in the release does not work in Walmart’s media division. And Walmart normally uses Business Wire for its official announcements, Mr. Hargrove said.

Cryptocurrency enthusiasts noted another clue: Litecoin’s relative obscurity makes it an unlikely cryptocurrency choice for a retailer.

It’s unclear how the fake release made it past GlobeNewswire’s systems. By midmorning, the service had notified users that the announcement should be disregarded. Bloomberg and Reuters, two of the media outlets that had written up the release, retracted and updated their articles.

Such hoaxes do happen every now and then. In 2010, another news wire service published a fake release saying the cereal company General Mills was the subject of a federal investigation, which the company wasn’t. In 2009, federal securities regulators charged a stockbroker with disseminating false releases to manipulate the shares of several public companies. In that case, the S.E.C. filed an enforcement action just three weeks after the scheme began.

Most big corporate news wire companies have secure systems for letting companies submit releases for distribution. After falling prey to a fake release scandal involving a pharmaceutical company in 2010, Business Wire, which is owned by Warren E. Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, prevented companies from using email to submit a release. Business Wire declined to comment.

The fake Walmart release even led to some confusion at the Litecoin Foundation, which briefly posted it on its Twitter account. The foundation later deleted the message and posted that it had not entered into a partnership with Walmart.

In a statement on Twitter, the foundation said that a quote purporting to be from Litecoin’s creator, Charlie Lee, had been fabricated and that a member of the foundation’s social media team had sent a Twitter message by mistake. “We have taken steps to correct future issues,” the statement said.

Coinbase, one of the cryptocurrency exchanges where investors can buy and sell Litecoin, said in a statement that it worked to actively debunk misinformation, and posted an article refuting the hoax.

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