Litecoin, a longstanding but relatively little-used cryptocurrency, surged in value Monday on reports that it had entered a partnership with Walmart—then dived back down again after the reports turned out to be a well-orchestrated hoax. Experts believe the 25% surge was the result of a "pump and dump" scam, in which fake news is used to drive up an asset's price before it is sold for a fast profit, reports CNN. Litecoin's rollercoaster ride Monday started with a press release from GlobeNewswire that was picked up by major media outlets. It claimed that Walmart planned to accept payments from shoppers in litecoin.
After around an hour, the newswire company issued a "notice to disregard" and said the release, which include fake quotes from Walmart execs, was issued by a "fraudulent user account." "This has never happened before and we have already put in place enhanced authentication steps to prevent this isolated incident from occurring in the future," a spokesperson said, per CNBC, promising that there would be a full investigation and cooperation with any criminal probe. Walmart said in a statement that the press release was inaccurate and that the company has no relationship with Walmart. According to Coinbase, several billions of dollars of litecoin was traded Monday, a much higher total than usual.
This may have been the "PR hoax of the decade," according to Fast Company. The press release appeared legitimate—and it was retweeted by litecoin's verified account—but there were a few clues that it wasn't genuine. Walmart had never issued a release on GlobeNewswire before, and it listed a nonexistent website—walmart-corp.com—as the email address for company execs. The bogus release also used the first two of its six paragraphs to tout the benefits of litecoin over bitcoin. (Read more cryptocurrency stories.)