- Kroger said a press release on Friday that the grocer was going to soon accept Bitcoin Cash — an offshoot of Bitcoin — as a form of payment across its stores and online was fake. "This communication was fraudulent and is unfounded and should be disregarded," a Kroger spokesperson wrote in an email.
- The press release has been removed from PR Newswire and the grocer's investor relations page, which Reuters said automatically uploaded the webpage from the wire service. A spokesperson for Cision/PR Newswire wrote in an email that the service and its parent company have "multiple security measures in place to authenticate information... and are urgently investigating the incident including looking into any criminal activity associated with this matter."
- The hoax followed a similar one that hit Walmart in September when a press release falsely claimed the retailer was partnering with Litecoin.
At a glance, the cryptocurrency announcements citing Kroger and Walmart looked official and appeared on well-known press release distribution services. Both incidents prompted investigations by the news wires involved to figure out how the hoaxes happened, per media reports.
"Nobody really stands to gain from a fake press release," said Mimi Carter, U.S. general manager and senior vice president of public relations firm Proof Strategies. "I think there are probably shock jocks, perhaps, in the industry who think that this is a good way of getting brand awareness."
Bitcoin Cash briefly jumped about 5% immediately after the fake press release went out, per CoinDesk. On the day the Walmart hoax happened, Litecoin saw its price briefly increase by more than 30%, according to Bloomberg. The combination of growing popularity, lack of regulation and largely untraceable trading has made cryptocurrencies prime targets for deception and scams.
Following the fake Litecoin announcement, Walmart put a statement on its website saying it had no knowledge of the press release and that it does not have a relationship with Litecoin. The Litecoin Foundation said in a statement it did not know where the fake press release originated and that its sharing of the press release on Twitter came from a "little too eager" social media team member.
A fraudulent user account on GlobeNewswire issued the Walmart press release, Dave Pleiss, vice president of investor and public relations for GlobeNewswire, told The Verge, noting the company added “enhanced authentication steps to prevent this isolated incident from occurring in the future."
Kroger can use the fraudulent announcement as an opportunity to further engage with both its customers and the industry, communications professionals said.
"Humor might be the best medicine here — it's absurd to think Kroger would use Bitcoin," Rebecca Churchill, president of Churchill Communications & Marketing, wrote in an email.
Kroger could also create a coalition among retailers focused on security and cybersecurity awareness, Carter said.
While the announcements involving Walmart and Kroger weren't real, grocers have started to dabble in cryptocurrency and blockchain — the technology that records cryptocurrency transactions — as they gain global traction. Walmart started piloting the sale of Bitcoin at Coinstar kiosks in select U.S. stores in October. United Natural Foods, Inc., Southeastern Grocers, H-E-B and select Carrs and Safeway stores in Alaska have also recently turned to in-store Bitcoin kiosks. More than two years ago, Whole Foods Market began accepting Bitcoin as payment via cryptocurrency app Spedn.