First thing Monday morning, GlobeNewswire sent out a press release stating that Walmart had struck up a deal to support transactions with cryptocurrency litecoin. The internet was abuzz with the news. Litecoin isn’t a particularly trendy cryptocurrency option — at least not in comparison to something like bitcoin or ethereum — and Walmart has never really even expressed interest in accepting crypto payments. Well, the internet was right to be shocked by the news because it was actually fake.
Walmart did not send out the press release and has no litecoin-related activities in the pipeline at all, a company spokesperson confirmed to multiple outlets just hours later.
It’s unclear how the fake press release made its way to the GlobeNewswire website. Walmart’s spokesperson said the company had already been in touch with the owners of the site to investigate how the fake news made it all the way through to being published. The litecoin market is handling the rapid news cycle with characteristic volatility.
Way up and way down — Litecoin, like all non-fiat cryptocurrencies, can see its value skyrocket or plunge at the slightest breeze (or tweet from Tesla’s Technoking). By the time Walmart had officially confirmed the press release’s untruths, the misinformation had already made its mark in the market. Various notable media outlets, such as Yahoo, Reuters, and CNBC, reported the news before it was debunked.
Litecoin’s value jumped nearly 30 percent in a matter of minutes as the reports rolled in. It peaked at around $231 before tumbling back down — further down than it had been before the release.
Pump and dump? — Right now it’s impossible to tell who is responsible for planting this fake release. The press contact listed in the release referenced “walmort-corp.com,” a site that doesn’t actually go anywhere at all. Anyone could be behind it.
One popular theory floating around social media right now is that someone working for litecoin posted the fake release as a pump-and-dump scheme. It’s a tale as old as time, really: Raise the price of a stock or currency with seemingly positive details and then cash in by selling off your holdings at the new, higher price. Anyone holding a great deal of litecoin could’ve been motivated by such a get-rich-quick scheme. It’s much easier to get away with pump-and-dump in the crypto world because the SEC isn’t looking over your shoulder at all times.
We’ll have to wait for Walmart’s investigation to conclude before we have any idea who’s behind this. Motivations aside, the snafu serves as a great reminder for journalists that, as unregulated markets, cryptocurrency is particularly liable to exactly this kind of scam.