Why Chinese scammers use the Theranos model to carry out their cryptocurrency scams

Ben Rothke
4 min readMay 18, 2023

Elizabeth Holmes — when evidence fails, leverage testosterone

Elizabeth Holmes, the disgraced founder of Theranos, used a simple but time-tested technique for fraud. As brilliantly detailed by John Carreyrou in the definitive story of the sage, Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, she stacked her executive board with powerful men who knew nothing about biotech. They were also enamored by her blonde looks and personality.

The Theranos board of directors read like a listing of the most powerful men in the world. Looking at the board members’ names, one would think it was for a Fortune 50 firm, not a stealth-mode startup. Board members included the then most powerful litigator in the US, David Boies, former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, former Secretary of Defense William Perry, General James’ Mad Dog’ Mattis, retired Senator Sam Nunn, and more.

Many investors who poured hundreds of millions of dollars into Theranos did so as the board of directors was seen as men with sterling, larger-than-life images who gave Theranos a stamp of legitimacy.

The problem was that nearly the entire board consisted of older men with extensive government, diplomatic and military experience, but none with any real-world life sciences or medical expertise. They were all enamored by an attractive blonde woman who promised them riches.

LinkedIn is the Chinese scammers’ platform of choice

Attractive scammers from China use the same model to get people to invest in cryptocurrency. They use their looks to entice men, clueless about crypto’s workings, to invest in their platforms. It’s unclear if they are attractive, as they use stolen images.

Any man using LinkedIn in 2023 is inundated by these LinkedIn invitations that appear out of the blue.

These scammers have taken a liking to LinkedIn, given its business approach. This, combined with LinkedIn making it a hassle to report these profiles (requires close to 10 clicks), and their reticence to block them, gives the scammer the house advantage.



Ben Rothke

I work in information security at Tapad. Write book reviews for the RSA blog, & a Founding member of the Cloud Security Alliance and Cybersecurity Canon.