We saw a lot of scams in 2019. As we prepare for what’s sure to be an exciting 2020 for cryptocurrency and the world in general, let’s take a look back at the various scams and schemes that Cointelligence reported on last year.
Fight to Fame gets on Mike Tyson’s bad side
Since I’m writing this article, I get to start with what I think is the most ridiculous scam we saw this year: Fight to Fame! If you’re going to set out to involve an unwilling celebrity in your scam, why would you choose one who made their fame by punching people out? I mean, so far, Mike Tyson has sensibly stuck to having his lawyers send cease-and-desist letters while making public statements that he is not involved in Fight to Fame or Tyson coin. But still. I wouldn’t want a heavyweight champion on my bad side.
Perhaps the most ridiculous element of this scam is how they listed stars such as Dwayne Johnson and Jet Li as part of their organizing committee, with the tag of “To be invited.” This page in their white paper read “Mr. Tyson will serve as the chairman of the organizing committee, and will invite Hollywood action stars including Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Shwarzenegger, Dwayne Johnson, and Jet Li…” Like… do they think that all boxers and action stars just hang out together? Do they have a secret WhatsApp chat where they share training tips, and Tyson can just be like “Hey guys, you want to come judge a cryptocurrency-backed fighting competition with me?” If so, how does one get an invite to this chat? Asking for a friend.
OneCoin gains mainstream attention
This scam is so big, it inspired an 8-part BBC Sounds miniseries, “The Missing Cryptoqueen.” The thing about OneCoin is that it takes the classic MLM (multi-level marketing)/pyramid scheme structure used by many scams, and gives it a shiny cryptocurrency veneer. Like many MLM scams, it targets vulnerable people, including those in developing economies. There’s something especially egregious about a scam who takes advantage of people who are barely scraping by.
The really sad thing in all of this is that OneCoin’s loyal followers have been targeting Jen McAdam, one of the whistleblowers on the BBC podcast. They’ve sent her death threats and other nasty messages. This just goes to show that scammers are not just greedy, they are entirely morally bankrupt. Everyone at Cointelligence applauds Jen for her honesty and her vulnerability on the podcast.
We even got a little OneCoin hate mail of our own, but at least they didn’t threaten us with violence.
It’s worth noting that some of the major players involved in OneCoin have moved on to DAGCoin, so we probably won’t see the last of this particular breed of MLM/crypto scam hybrid for a while.
Karatbars just won’t go away
Speaking of pyramid schemes… the frustrating thing about Karatbars/Karatgold is that it’s widely known to be a Ponzi scheme, and yet high-profile crypto sites like CoinTelegraph continue to run ads for them!
We want to make this abundantly clear: Karatbars is a known scam. It’s been known as a scam for a good five years or so. The Canadian government banned it all the way back in 2016, and while governments don’t necessarily have a great track record for understanding and regulating cryptocurrency, they do know what a Ponzi scheme looks like, so we’re going to trust Canada on this one. You won’t see any Karatbars ads running on Cointelligence, that’s for sure.
Venture Capital Hub @ Reuters also advertised a scam
To be clear, CoinTelegraph isn’t the only major news outlet accepting that sweet scammer advertising money. Venture Capital Hub @ Reuters ran a sponsored article for known scam Blue Hill Mining, and then when informed that it was a scam, took the article down but sort of shrugged over their responsibility regarding securities frauds. It’s worth remembering that anyone working in paid content is clearly working in the advertising industry and many of them aren’t particularly concerned with the old concepts of journalistic integrity.
LATOKEN and the SpaceX IEO that wasn’t
Actually, there’s a lot that we dislike about LATOKEN, but the misleading SpaceX IEO is a pretty clear example of their dishonesty. As LATOKEN’s employees relentlessly messaged people in the crypto industry to list their token on the exchange, they used the upcoming SpaceX IEO as an example of how legitimate they were.
The only problem? SpaceX wasn’t running an IEO on LATOKEN. Someone was running an IEO to raise funds to purchase shares in SpaceX. Neither Elon Musk nor anyone else officially connected to SpaceX were involved in this IEO, but the offering’s page read like a profile of the company itself, not of the entity looking to raise funds in order to get SpaceX assets which they could then tokenize.
We didn’t like what we found in LEO’s smart contract
A smart contract audit can be really eye-opening. In the case of LEO, we discovered that the owner could not only mint/print as many coins as they wanted, but also delete any other LEO user’s coins, even if they were held in a cold storage wallet.
WHEN’s smart contract didn’t look so good either
LEO wasn’t the only suspicious smart contract we identified in 2019. We also found troubling code in WHEN’s contract, which would allow the owner to just transfer tokens to whatever wallet they wanted, such as their own.
In short: smart contract audits are a great idea.
WireX took advantage of pre-sale customers
Does this one count as a scam or just a really bad business decision? WireX charged its pre-sale customers more than its IEO customers, and also locked their tokens down for 6 months. It’s not a good look to take advantage of your pre-sale customers this way.
Chainstarter and 21 Million
We called out Nick Ayton and Chainstarter, and in the process we got into the weird, convoluted history of 21 Million, which resulted in Ayton and former partner David Lofts working on their own competing versions of the movie/television show about a shadowy cryptocurrency conspiracy.
I’m still waiting to see if either version of 21 Million makes it to the screen. It appears that Ayton’s version has morphed to include Artificial Intelligence. Everyone loves a killer AI!
BiteBTC attempted to rebrand
We flagged BiteBTC as a scam exchange. Trying to outrun their own bad reputation, they announced they had been purchased and were rebranding as “Fedlio.” So we’d just like to remind you: Fedlio = BiteBTC = SCAM.
YoBit is an awful exchange, too
Combining two issues in one: YoBit is a scammy exchange that actually sent out an email admitting to a pump scheme. This didn’t stop CoinMarketCap from accepting their advertising dollars.
Dobi’s unique crypto romance scam
Not to be outdone by BiteBTC and YoBit, Dobi was embroiled in a bizarre scam in which men on dating apps were approached by attractive young women who convinced them to buy RET on Dobi. We can’t make this stuff up.
Beware fraudulent “financial advisors”
Just because somebody works for a trusted institution doesn’t mean you can trust them individually. Kamran Ahmed Jamal used his employment at KPMG (and his work email) to convince a celebrity to take him on as a financial advisor, only to clean out her Kraken account and disappear with the funds.
Fake Satoshis abound
In addition to the ongoing saga that is Craig S. Wright, now we have to contend with Jorg Molt, who some call “Nakamolto.” While he doesn’t seem to have outright claimed to be Satoshi, he does claim to be a co-founder of bitcoin because… he was around when it was founded? Was an early adopter? Knew some of the founders? His reasoning is pretty foggy.
CC Forum gives scammers a platform
The crypto event CC Forum, founded and headed by Max Studennikoff, gave a platform to numerous scammers at their event this year. They uninvited our CEO On Yavin at the last minute, only to change their mind at the last-last minute, giving him the chance to call out the scammers. Think they’ll invite him back in 2020?
Scam exchange round-up
I’ve already highlighted some of the specific exchange scams we called out in 2019, but here are the exchanges that are currently listed as scams on our exchange rating list: Bitsane, Coinbe, Coinroom, Cobinhood, C-CEX, and of course LATOKEN. A few of these exchanges have already performed exit scams, but others are still operational so we continue to recommend that you do your due diligence before opening an account with any crypto exchange.