5 Memorable ICO Scams

Vlad Costea
  • While ICOs can turn you into a Borgias for a Michelangelo who's going to paint the blockchain equivalent of the Sistine Chapel, there are still plenty of scams that damage both your wallet and the reputation of this way of financing start-ups.
  • Always make sure you're investing in a legitimate project: read the whitepaper and scan for excessive buzzwords, check out the developers, try to envision the purpose and use of the project, look for the opinion of rating websites, and inquire about a trusted escrow company.

So you've finally decided to make use of your hard-earned Ethereum (ETH) coins by converting them into the tokens of a promising initial coin offering (ICO). It's a great way for you to become a patron, somebody who sees potential in a project and helps it reach its goal. You may think that you're some kind of modern-day Borgias who's found his DaVinci, Buonaroti, and Raphael in a crew of software engineers whose vision had been written in a whitepaper.

If the project is truly legitimate and meets your expectations, you might just get rich off of HODLing those sweet tokens. Nevertheless, you must be cautious and completely aware of the fact that the odds are stacked against your idealistic expectations and the number of successful ICOs is disappointingly low.

That's why we thought it would be a good idea to make a short list of scams and big disappointments, just so you know what to expect. The "invest only what you can afford to lose" rule is definitely the Northern Star which must guide all of your moves in the space, and sometimes the difference between the next big top 10 token and the exit scam of the week is given by very elusive details and relative circumstances.

You can't always win, you can't always get what you want, and someone actually has to lose in order to create the next wave of crypto millionaires. And if you've invested in any of these, then you've definitely filled the bags and pockets of a selected elite whom you'll never encounter in your life unless you get exclusive access to some well-hidden luxurious island in the Pacific Ocean.

1. SaveDroid's South Park-Referencing “Gone Not Gone” Scam

The first ICO mentioned is also the latest to cause a buzz among the community, as the German team has pulled a nifty exit scam and ran away with about $50 million.

They promised they would build a savings app which would allow users to use their hard-earned money for AI-handpicked investments. Because really, the future belongs to competing trading bots (or droids) who make rapid financial exchanges based on the same algorithms that don't make mistakes, and thus don't move the markets at all. Sounds totally legit, right?

It was the general "too good to be true" project which also had included a cryptocurrency-funded credit card on the roadmap, but left the moment the ICO ended. Their departure message was as light-hearted as can be, as a South Park meme from the "Margaritaville" episode covered the front page of their website.

But wait, there's more to it and the entire story has a twist: after the company's CEO had hinted on his Twitter account that he did actually pull an exit scam, he returned the following day to provide some explanations.

As detailed in James McQuillan's article on our website, SaveDroid had only tried to show the world how easy it is to raise funds and run away in an unregulated market which doesn't possess the legal means to bring you to justice. To put it plainly, it was a scam about making a point on scams, and the SaveDroid leader promised he would work with authorities to create a fair framework for regulations.

Are they gone or not gone? Is there going to be a double twist to the entire story? It doesn't matter, investors are very upset and it's still unclear whether or not they will ever see their money back. Proving a point can cost $50 million, right?

2. Bitconnect X's Encore

Speaking of memes and occult bots which make trades with the users' savings, it's Carlos Matos' favorite ICO, because we all know he ‘LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOVES BITCONNEEEEEEEEEECT!’ Back in January 2018, in spite of all the warnings from reputable cryptocurrency experts and red flags, people still believed that Bitconnect was the perfect way to get rich quickly.

Trevon James did it, a 17-year old named Crypto Nick has become a millionaire, so why shouldn't everyone else get the daily 1 percent returns? There was no way for the system to turn out to be a Ponzi scheme like the hateful venom-spitting critics claimed to, right? They were probably jealous about the gains they didn't make.

Well, Bitconnect did collapse and people lost a lot of Bitcoin (which was the entry ticket into the system) just to keep on holding onto worthless tokens. But there seemed to be a safety net that users hung onto, because there is no way the same company would attempt a second scam: Bitconnect X was announced as an ICO in early 2018 and pretty much promised nothing other than being listed on CoinMarketCap!

The admission fee was $50 per token, and lots of BCC enthusiasts jumped right in, but the entire project crashed and burned just like its longer-lived predecessor. It's like that old saying "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, I LOOOOOOOVE BITCONNEEEEEEEEEEEEEEECT!"

3. Prodeum's Phallic Complex

The blockchain can have many revolutionary uses, and a team of Lithuanian programmers thought about involving the industry of fruits and vegetables into such a process.

 It all seemed legitimate and unique: their website contained a detailed whitepaper with a roadmap, the team’s developers had listed their LinkedIn profiles, and people on social media would post pictures of Prodeum's name written on their bodies.How could this go wrong? Well, the moment after the bags got filled with the Ethereum equivalent of $11 million, the website disappeared and left the project’s investors a wise message, which plainly said "penis".

Any link related to the developers had disappeared, and one of the alleged team members who got caught claimed to have been subjected to identity theft. So if it wasn't him, then who pulled out this scheme?Also, what about the Twitter believers who kept on posting pictures of their bodies labeled with the Prodeum brand? It turned out that they were just paid Fiverr users who were fulfilling the assignment for which they were getting paid. Now that's quite a fruitful collaboration.

4. The Obvious PonziCoin

If Dogecoin (DOGE) turned a meme into one of the most successful cryptocurrencies on the market, then why not push the envelope a little farther and pull off an exit scheme without even bothering to hide your intentions?

If Bitcoin and its many clones promised to create a fairer and more transparent world of finances, then why not make scams more obvious too? Some guy named Josh Cincinatti thought about a concept which openly mocks the entire ICO culture, but still demands for money in a serious way. His project isn't a pamphlet of the likes of Voltaire, but a real ICO which has open and brilliant rules: first of all, it never ends. Crypto investors often regret missing deadlines and those who organize exit schemes can't possibly miss their money.

Secondly, the entire pyramid is simplified so that only the selected board of elites gets that fat percentage. It also consists of one person, as Josh Cincinatti does everything in his company. It's ridiculous, it's hilarious, and it's the ICO equivalent of the guy who did a Kickstarter to ask for money just to never work a day in his life - except that it features a profound understanding of Ponzi economics and has an amusing whitepaper.

5. Benebit

If all the other examples were sketchy and contained small clues about the scammy nature of their projects, this one is of a different kind. Ironically, Benebit was all about customer royalty and promised to unite all the cards and programs under one blockchain umbrella.

 Do you go often to have meals at your favorite restaurant which has a benefit card? Do you buy medicines from that pharmacy which offers special discounts during the winter season for customers who want flu pills? Why carry multiple cards and make use of many separate platforms when there could be one to unify them all and provide a fast and reliable payment currency?

The project sounded great and had about 9,000 Telegram members. People seemed to be excited about the upcoming launch and the developers seemed legitimate: they provided LinkedIn profiles, passport pictures, and a whitepaper which seemed both brilliant and feasible.

 Even ICO Bench gave the project a rating of 4.1 out of 5, only to quickly remove it as soon as it turned out to be a scam! And yes, I've spoiled the outcome: Benebit turned out to be a brilliantly-orchestrated scam and the founders had closed down the website and everything in less than a day, leaving behind a Telegram group where people were distributing dank memes and suicide prevention numbers.

Benebit simply proved that you can never be too certain about ICOs and even the self-proclaimed experts and evaluators from the field can get fooled (or bribed). And while the tone of this article had been pretty humorous, losing money is no laughing matter.

Only invest in ICOs if you're ready to have a nasty surprise and simultaneously feel convinced that you've discovered a true gem. Scams have become pretty elaborate these days and people seem to throw their ETH coins irrationally in all directions, hoping that they will find a gold mine. Just buying Bitcoin at a low price and HODLing it for a few months is a much safer investment option in this space, but then again it's your money and you know best how you should be spending it.

Then again, this article is purely informative, and doesn't endorse any type of investment. You have to keep in mind that cryptocurrencies are risky and I am not a financial advisor (as a matter of fact, I've had my share of poor choices so I wouldn't tell anyone how to invest their money).

Who Will Win the Race to be the “Crypto Valley of Asia”?

Phuong Nguyen is Co-Founder and CTO of Remitano, a peer to peer crypto exchange which aims to create an open financial system to the emerging and developing markets. Phuong has years of experience in the cryptocurrency field and his current projects focus on blockchain and cryptocurrencies in the Asian markets.

Operators within Asian crypto-economies are at a crossroads. It’s a time where some firms are largely staying away from the cryptocurrency sector, which they perceive lacks investor protections, while others are pumping investment into blockchain hubs, with the hopes of becoming the “Crypto Valley of Asia.”

Despite this love-hate relationship with crypto, South East Asia in particular has seen a flurry of crypto activity. Regulators and policymakers in this region are easing up on rules, and a series of new projects to lure fintech investment have just been unveiled.

The race to claim the title of Asia’s crypto valley is gaining momentum, with new entrants such as the Philippines and Thailand clipping at the heels of crypto-friendly nations: Japan, Vietnam and Singapore. It’s time to place your bets.

A top-down approach

The latest country sprinting out of the blocks is The Philippines. In August, the government announced the launch of a new $100 million blockchain and crypto hub set to be built at Philippines’ Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Freeport in the North of the country. The crypto hub is sought to model Zug in Switzerland, the birthplace of Ethereum, and has already secured commitments from 25 tech companies.

The Filipino government’s initiative reflects a top-down approach that perhaps offers the quickest route towards mass adoption among consumers in the near future. Not only will it spread awareness and help educate the public, but it also facilitates and integrates deeper participation from dominant players in the corporate world by providing a dedicated space with infrastructure support for fintech and blockchain development.

South Korea has similar hopes for a blockchain crypto hub on Jeju island. The island’s governor, Won Hee-ryong, expressed a desire earlier this year to designate the area as a “special zone for cryptocurrencies and blockchain businesses.” The South Korean government have set plans to invest roughly $4 billion in 2019 to develop pilot projects and a platform economy built on data analytics.

The Singapore government has also been delving into crypto advancements. In October, the island-city brought in Binance, one of the largest cryptocurrency exchanges in the world.

Cracking the regulation code

As one of the early adopters of bitcoin, Japan is out in front of its South East Asian neighbours in terms of easing regulations and becoming a crypto haven for companies. Cryptocurrencies are legal tender in Japan, and the country also holds one of the world’s first self-regulatory body for crypto exchanges.

Sensible regulations are a necessary ingredient for the quickest and safest adoption of cryptocurrencies. It creates a healthier environment for businesses to thrive while discouraging illegitimate entities to profit maliciously. Regulations are likely to succeed if they are loose at first, to encourage innovation, but over time tightened to reduce risks. Therefore, countries who are quick to crack this will have a clear shot at winning the race.

To close the gap with Japan, a number of countries in South East Asia have been busy easing regulations to attract fintech firms from abroad.

Since August, local banks in Thailand are allowed to invest in crypto, run crypto-related businesses, and issue digital tokens through subsidiaries. This is something of an about-face, as just in February, the Bank of Thailand ordered all of the country’s local banks to cease all crypto-related dealings.

Just last month, Malaysia’s finance minister stated that any entity wishing to issue cryptocurrency must defer to the country's central bank. And India’s financial committee is reportedly set to present a long-awaited draft bill on crypto regulation in December.

What will set these countries apart in the race to establish itself as the crypto valley of Asia will be finding the balance in the roll out of these regulations. Having clear regulations, such as in Singapore, means governments can pave the path to collecting taxes from cryptocurrency activity.

And yet finding the line between “supporting” and “suppressing” is proving difficult.

If regulation barriers are high, then only established institutions are able to conform. This reduces innovation, but at the same time, it guarantees a safeguard for those using or investing in cryptocurrencies. If the barrier is low, innovation is stymied, but the risk in using crypto currencies is higher. Countries who find this balance will be able to position themselves at the forefront of crypto performance in Asia.

Predictions

Despite the recent attention that the Philippines, Thailand, and South Korea have been receiving in the cryptocurrency space, if one had to place a bet on the first “Crypto Valley of Asia” it would have to be Japan.

The yen boasts the second largest share of global bitcoin trading (after USD), with the yen at one time representing 58% of the market.

And, while China has imposed hostile regulations, the door is open for investors and traders to enter Japan’s considerably welcoming crypto nation.

Two things that could hold Japan back are its inclusive nature, as well as its language barriers.

Countries that are able to quickly regulate crypto in a sensible way and legally recognize cryptos as valid currency may well usurp Japan’s head start to become the de facto “Crypto Valley of Asia.”