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ICO Exit Scams Have Stolen Nearly $100 Million: Research

Last Updated March 4, 2021 3:55 PM
Josiah Wilmoth
Last Updated March 4, 2021 3:55 PM

The cryptocurrency industry may be maturing, but that doesn’t mean it’s likely to shed its reputation as a playground for scam artists anytime soon.

That’s according to a report from Diar , which found that ICO exit scams have now cost investors nearly $100 million.

The majority of these stolen funds, an estimated $68 million, has been raked in by exit scams that have occurred during the first two weeks of August. The largest, allegedly pulled by the China-based Shenzhen Puyin Blockchain Group, raised $60 million from three separate ICOs before attracting the attention of the State Market Regulatory Administration (SMRA).

ico exit scams
Source: Diar

In another particularly morbid exit scam, the organizers of Block Broker, an ICO intended to fund the development of a platform that would “completely eliminate ICO fraud” exit scammed investors to the tune of $3 million.

In its report, Diar’s researchers attribute the proliferation of exit scams to the structure of the token sale fundraising model, arguing that it creates misaligned incentives.

They wrote:

“Unsurprisingly, the blatant exit scams continue to plague the largely unregulated ICO sector where the founders have no contractual obligation to deliver a product. After raising millions of dollars with no string attached, the founders’ incentives to actually build a valuable company are very limited.”

As Diar notes, the amount of funds lost to ICO exit scams is particularly bizarre considering how easy they are to spot when conducting even a moderate amount of due diligence. Many, for instance, use plagiarized whitepapers and fake profile pictures. One project famously used a picture of Ryan Gosling for its fictional graphic designer, while another featured a fake testimonial attributed to an image of Jennifer Aniston.

Nevertheless, fraudulent projects, including those that use other tactics than straight-up exit scams, continue to attract hundreds of millions of dollars from investors, often by using FOMO to trick them into acting against their better judgment.

Even supposedly above-board projects have used the hoopla around exit scamming to accrue media attention. As CCN.com reported, one startup — Savedroid, which raised $50 million from its ICO and other funding sources — executed a fake exit scam in a controversial publicity stunt apparently designed to drum up interest in an ICO advisory service that the project was launching.

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