Back to Africa Check

South African businessman bought airline with Bitcoin? No, it’s a scam

“The secret behind the sale of an airline in South Africa,” reads the headline of an article on a suspicious website with the URL

“One of the most famous businessmen in South Africa managed to acquire an airline in South Africa in a confidential deal whose details have not been announced so far,” the undated article says.

Airlines in South Africa are under pressure after being grounded in late March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The article was first shared on Facebook on 28 April, and has since attracted more than 1.3 million views.

But it appears to be a scam.

Not the BBC

The web page has the same look and feel as the credible BBC News website. But it doesn’t show the BBC logo. The site has no home page – rather, the URL directs to a very different-looking page headed “Apache 2 Test Page powered by CentOS”.

The domain lookup site reveals that “” is registered to a different owner than that of the BBC domain, “”.

It is also telling that there are no links away from the article. The page shows a menu with categories such as “World”, “Business” and “Entertainment & Arts” – all part of the real BBC News site. But the links don’t work. It seems to be part of a larger website, but it’s actually just a single page.

An image in the article shows what appears to be the wing of an airplane flying over land. This is labelled “News24 Video”, but no video is included.

A reverse image search reveals that the image is actually related to a 2018 news story about a plane crash. The image has been taken from News24 reporting on the incident.

Cryptocurrency scam

The article gives no real details. It mentions “one of the most famous businessmen in South Africa”, “an English company” and “the airline”, but names none of them.

The catch is revealed when the article says the unnamed businessman bought the airline with money made trading the cryptocurrency Bitcoin.

It ends with an “update” that invites readers to “please enter your data below and the financial advisor of the company will contact you to inform you about how to invest and trade online”.

Below that is a button marked “Click Here to Register”.

It is unusual for news reports to encourage readers to partner with specific companies to earn money, but this is a common front for cryptocurrency trading scams

In November 2019 Which magazine warned consumers of an increase in cryptocurrency scams after Bitcoin peaked in value in 2017. These often followed the style of the article: a false news page, designed to look real, which encourages readers to sign up for a cryptocurrency trading program. Which magazine found that people who did so often lost amounts up to £200,000 (more than R4.5 million).

The false article and the dozens of comments beneath it (all seemingly posted minutes ago, no matter when you load the page) seem designed to entice a reader into joining a suspicious trading scheme. – Keegan Leech


Republish our content for free

We believe that everyone needs the facts.

You can republish the text of this article free of charge, both online and in print. However, we ask that you pay attention to these simple guidelines. In a nutshell:

1. Do not include images, as in most cases we do not own the copyright.

2. Please do not edit the article.

3. Make sure you credit "Africa Check" in the byline and don't forget to mention that the article was originally published on

For publishers: what to do if your post is rated false

A fact-checker has rated your Facebook or Instagram post as “false”, “altered”, “partly false” or “missing context”. This could have serious consequences. What do you do?

Click on our guide for the steps you should follow.

Publishers guide

Africa Check teams up with Facebook

Africa Check is a partner in Meta's third-party fact-checking programme to help stop the spread of false information on social media.

The content we rate as “false” will be downgraded on Facebook and Instagram. This means fewer people will see it.

You can also help identify false information on Facebook. This guide explains how.

Add new comment

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
limit: 600 characters

Want to keep reading our fact-checks?

We will never charge you for verified, reliable information. Help us keep it that way by supporting our work.

Become a newsletter subscriber

Support independent fact-checking in Africa.