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WSJ Finds Fraud, Plagiarism in Hundreds of Crypto White Papers

WSJ Finds Fraud, Plagiarism in Hundreds of Crypto Whitepapers

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) published research findings on Thursday, 27 December, showing that hundreds of cryptocurrency white papers appear to contain fraud, plagiarism, or offer improbable returns.

Looking at the white papers for 3,291 cryptocurrency projects that announced initial coin offerings (ICOs), analysis from WSJ showed signs of “duplicate language” with almost 10,000 sentences appearing more than once in the papers. Journalists then checked the dates of first publishment on each of the reappearing sentences to determine the original author.

The identities of individuals allegedly involved in working on the cryptocurrency projects that had key personal information missing in the white papers had their identities checked through a reverse image search; 343 projects had individuals fall in this category. Team members without photos had their information verified via the 1 million plus people on the US Census Bureau.

Over 2,000 papers utilized terms such as “nothing to lose, guaranteed profit, return on investment, highest return, high return, funds profit, no risk, and little risk”, language that US state and Federal regulators have previously cracked down on by issuing cease and desist orders or filing charges in some cases.

Some 16%, or 513 of the white papers, were found to show evidence of either plagiarism, identify theft or promising implausible returns.

 

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Italian Regulator Suspends Suspicious Crypto-Related Ventures

Italian Regulator Suspends Suspicious Crypto-Related Ventures

In a newsletter published today by the Commissione Nazionale per le Società e la Borsa (CONSOB), the securities market regulator in Italy has issued a cease and desist order to two cryptocurrency-related platforms.

As the chief regulator of the Italian securities market, CONSOB has deemed it fit to suspend the activities of Bitsurge Token and Green Energy Certificates for 90 days as a “precautionary measure” in line with the infringement of Article 99, Paragraph 1, Letter b of the Consolidated Law on Finance.

Both firms were allegedly offering unregistered securities or outrageous investment benefits for sale, and advertising their products to Italian residents via an online platform. For Bitsurge Token, the website was the medium of communication while the Green Energy Certificates used its Facebook social media page to advertise its product.

The Italian regulator has taken action against Bitsurge Token and Green Energy Certificates under two official resolutions viz: Resolution no. 20741 and Resolution no. 20740 respectively. This was published on the Italian regulator’s website on 12 December.

According to the resolution, the regulator identified offers from the Bitsurge Token operators providing an investment return of up to 7% minimum upon buying the Bitsurge token unit of USD 40 minimum with a lifecycle of 90 days on the ROI. Further, there were also “token contracts” offers detailed in the resolution, noting that the platform was offering investment cap of USD 1,000 up to USD 25,000.

On the other hand, the second offender Green Energy Certificates project was offering an investment opportunity “to protect the rainforests from deforestation” through blockchain while guaranteeing “a compensation of 6% per annum… spread every month at 0.5%”, the resolution reads.

The regulator emphasized: “Those wishing to make an offer to the public shall publish a prospect beforehand.” And these two companies were in violation of the financial laws of Italy, noting that the absence of a prospectus and a lack of prior notice to CONSOB presented a “well-founded suspicion about the promotion of a public offer of financial product” to the Italian citizens.

In light of the resolution, a 90-days embargo has been placed on both operators, with an appeal position to the Regional Administrative Court of Lazio within 60 days from the date of communication.

The Italian financial regulator continues to show steadfastness in protecting the investors within its borders against fraudulent cryptocurrency related services. Not too long ago, in a joint statement with Malta’s Financial Services (MFSA), both regulators issued a warning to an unlicensed cryptocurrency exchange dubbed OriginalCrypto operating within their region.

 

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Researchers Develop Algorithm to Predict Pump and Dump Schemes

Researchers Develop Algorithm to Predict Pump and Dump Schemes

Researchers from Imperial College London have developed an algorithm which they say can be used to predict cryptocurrency “pump and dump” schemes, something that allegedly contributes to USD 7 million worth of trading every month.

Pump and dump is a form of insider trading that has become increasingly commonplace since the rise of tokens in the cryptocurrency industry. It begins with an organizer accumulating a large amount of an obscure token in private, before announcing it to a closed group which then begin purchasing it also in large amounts, spiking the value.

Within minutes the selloff begins, with participants making an easy profit off those slow to the game and unaware of what was really going on.

While pump and dump schemes are present in conventional commodities trading, it is tightly regulated and participants can find themselves is significant trouble with the law. The issue in the cryptocurrency market is that there is no central authority to crack down on those responsible, hence these types of activity continue to take place, usually organized on private channels such as Telegram.

Jiahua Xu and Benjamin Livshits from Imperial College London have used machine learning to give investors a way to spot the schemes themselves, with some mathematical legwork.

Looking at 236 pump and dump cases, the researchers noted that the targeted cryptocurrency was nearly always preceded by unusual buying activity as the organizer accumulated a store prior to the pump. “The study reveals that pump-and-dump organizers can easily use their insider information to take extra gain at the sacrifice of fellow pumpers,” they explained.

These schemes can be avoided by identifying unusual buying patterns in obscure coins, Xu and Livshits identified, backing up their theory by training a machine learning algorithm with historical pump and dump data.

This is not a final solution, however, as organizers of these scams may change the patterns of their behavior to avoid detection by the algorithm.

 

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Malta Halts Operation of Unlicensed Crypto Exchange

Malta Halts the Operation of an Unlicensed Cryptocurrency Exchange Possibly a Scam

Malta Financial Service Authority (MFSA) has issued a cease and desist order yesterday to SolutionsCM Ltd, an unlicensed cryptocurrency exchange serving its populace.

The order as displayed on the regulator’s website specifically addressed the infringement of art. 18 of the Italian Legislative Decree No. 58/1998 which the company was found in violation of.

OriginalCrypto operated by SolutionsCM Ltd is purported to be a cryptocurrency investment brokerage firm where Bitcoin trading services are being offered with leverage options. Other services claimed by the website included trading with “over 200 high-liquidity assets, stocks, commodities, indices, currencies and much more based only on CRYPTO Exchange”.

The platform offers six account types, each of which requires a minimum BTC deposit before the account is activated.

The financial regulator feared that its citizens may be patronizing an unlicensed exchange exposing them to high-level financial risks and issued out the warning message:

“The Commissione Nazionale per le Società e la Borsa (CONSOB) has ordered the following companies to cease infringement of art. 18 of the Italian Legislative Decree No. 58/1998, consisting of the provision of unauthorized investment services and activities to the Italian public performed by SolutionsCM Ltd via the www.originalcrypto.com website.”

Several discrepancies raising red flags, including information on account types in Russian, which translates to: “LIMITED LIABILITY COMPANY “SAMDAR” | Registration date: 13.11.2017 | Legal address: 108841, Moscow, Troitsk, ul. 2nd Scientific, d. 4/2, pom. Vi, com. 3 | OGRN 5177746199791 | TIN 7751116026 | KPP 775101001 | OKVED 46.73 Settlement Account No. 40702810538000154658 in PJSC Sberbank Moscow BIC 044525225 | f / c 30101810400000000225 . Email : support@Originalcrypto.com”.

Earlier this year, ScamBitcoin, a monitoring blog that notifies the public of cryptocurrency-related scam operations, blacklisted the site as a scam. Further analysis revealed unsettling discoveries. Back then, ScamBitcoin documented the Risk Disclosure tag which read:

https://www.scambitcoin.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/originalcrypto-footer.jpg

ScamBitoin added: “We could find no evidence to support that Bali Limited Ltd was an actual corporation. The alleged corporate address provided for Bali Limited Ltd does not appear to be a factual physical address and computes to a variance of their disclosed address”.

Now, the footer of the website has changed the location and company, reflecting a change in the corporation’s management, which leaves some questions unanswered, such as whether the corporation, if at all real, had changed ownership and no press release detailing the changes were made known to the public. More so, the current operator’s address still conflicts with the official address provided.

This year only, numerous exchanges have received similar desist orders from different jurisdictions. Bitcoin News reported Texas Securities Board’s sanction on two exchanges, Thailand’s SEC’s warning about Q Exchange.

Malta has always been a crypto friendly area, and one racing to be the first innovative ideal space for companies to establish their blockchain businesses. It has made efforts to grow its fintech infrastructure to accommodate the blockchain technology by providing the first regulatory frameworks for cryptocurrency business, and also through partnerships and memoranda of understanding with cryptocurrency exchanges. Further, Italy seems to be tightening its grip on non-compliant exchanges.

 

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Brooklyn Con Artist Maksim Zaslaskiy Faces 5 Years in Slammer for Fake ICOs

Brooklyn, New York con artist Maksim Zaslavskiy has pled guilty to conspiracy to commit securities fraud after collecting funds for two fake initial coin offerings (ICOs), REcoin and Diamond Reserve Club. Some 1,000 investors were tricked and a civil case for the monetary losses will be adjudicated once sentencing for the criminal case is complete. He faces five years in prison.

REcoin, which was incorporated under REcoin Group Foundation LLC, touted itself as the first ever cryptocurrency backed by real estate. Further, Zaslavskiy said there was a team of lawyers, professionals, brokers, and accountants on the REcoin team that would reinvest proceeds from the ICO into real estate. While real estate tokens are a serious concept in the crypto space,REcoin was not backed by anything of the sort.

Zaslavskiy did not even take the time to create a cryptocurrency for REcoin and investors received paper certificates for their investment. United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Richard P Donoghue said, “The calculated lies of Zaslavskiy and others led unsuspecting investors who thought they were purchasing cryptocurrency securities to buy worthless certificates.”

Diamond Reserve Club, incorporated under DRC World Inc., claimed to be a cryptocurrency backed by physical diamonds. Once again there was no actual cryptocurrency, investors received paper certificates, and there were no physical diamonds backing the certificates.

Ultimately, Zaslavskiy’s ICOs fall under the category of securities fraud. He tried to get the charges dismissed by claiming that the certificates were a currency but the court asserted that just because something is labeled as a cryptocurrency does not change it from a security into a currency.

Even if REcoin and Diamond Reserve Club were legitimate, it would have been illegal to issue crypto securities as Zaslavskiy did according to Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) laws. The only legal way to do that is by getting official approval from the SEC, which is a difficult process that requires the utmost compliance. Without approval, the issuer of the securities can face monetary penalties exceeding the amount of investment and possibly, criminal charges.

 

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Liqui.io Accused of Delisting Popular Tokens to Scam Customers

Liqui.io, a cryptocurrency exchange based in Ukraine, has been accused of defrauding customers by delisting tokens, sometimes its top volume tokens like BAT and giving only 15 days to withdraw funds before seizing them.

For example, in its delisting announcements, Liqui.io states: “Once the withdrawal deadline has been reached withdrawals will be disabled and the asset will be fully decommissioned. From this point forward, we will be unable to process withdrawals of impacted assets. It is imperative that customers withdraw delisted tokens by the withdrawal deadline.”

Users are complaining that they have been scammed. The exchange has over 290,000 users, and it is likely that numerous users will not see the delisting announcements and end up leaving their coins on the exchange until they are confiscated. There are claims that Liqui.io is actively liquidating USD 300,000 of customer’s assets.

Further, customers assert that withdraws were halted well before the 15-day deadline, giving customers no chance at retrieving funds even if they saw the announcement in time.

It is unknown why Liqui.io does not leave the withdraws open until all customers have a chance to get their funds back. This is especially true for ERC-20 tokens like BAT which use the Ethereum wallet. The Ethereum wallet is still active for other coins on Liqui.io, and would work fine for withdrawing delisted coins if allowed.

On 28 September 2018, Liqui.io delisted CFI, TAAS, EDG, MCO, MGO, WAVES, BAT, MLN, TKN, MYST, ICN, TIME, and REQ. On 27 October 2018 Liqui.io delisted NET, XID, PTOY, NEU, ZRX, REN, AE, DNT, QRL, SNM, SRN, and STX. BAT and ZRX are tokens that were just added to Coinbase, causing a surge in popularity.

The 15-day window has already closed for these tokens, meaning any customers who left these tokens on Liqui.io have lost them.

 

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Thai SEC Issues Warning on Q Exchange

Thailand’s Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) has issued a warning to residents about Q Exchange stating that it is not “a licensed digital asset operator”.

The SEC had said that Q Exchange offered electronic money advisory and cryptocurrency trading, through print media outlet and also by using social media and other forms of online media to facilitate publicity of their services.

It was pointed out that the company had scarce online data, providing only an index page of the website, with no information about the exchange nor the services being provided.

As reported by Thai local news media lokwannee, Q Exchange offers digital asset trading services in BTC, ETH, BCH, XRP, LTC, NEO, OmiseGo, DASH, and ADA. It had plans to introduce its platform token, Q token.

The exchange may have targeted the Thailand market as blockchain business is taking a critical turn there both in terms of development and regulation. Chamnarn Suk, General Manager of Q Exchange Co Ltd, during the launch of the exchange had this to say:

“We are a joint venture with a major Korean company. The best management system in the industry… We intend to be the largest provider of currency exchange and services in Thailand, where we will educate…”

However, the Thai regulator has warned citizens that if investors, traders or holders of digital assets are “persuaded to receive digital asset exchange services or electronic money transactions”, they are at risk, as they are “not protected by the law under the supervision of the SEC”.

This public notice has also been followed up with a cease and desist order, whereby the SEC has expressly informed the Q Exchange management to cease its enticements for public investment and instructed the company to take precautions against violations of the Digital Asset royal decree of 2018.

On the subject of regulation, the country’s deputy prime minister, Wissanu Kreangam, is a strong voice for the intensifying of digital currency control measures, stating their vulnerability to being used for criminal activities such as money laundering and funding terrorism.

 

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Man Amasses World’s Largest Collection of Crypto White Papers

Legal professional John van Rijck has built the biggest white paper database currently available for potential investors to search through around 1,600 projects for free via his website All Crypto Whitepapers.

Van Rijck told Bitcoin News why he single-handedly put in the time and work developing the website, who he thinks is actually reading all of the white papers, what their true value is and how he believes they can help users to avoid scams.

The man has been involved with crypto since 2016, pulled in like many others by the disruptive ideals contained within the Bitcoin white paper”I just had to get on board”, he said, talking about his enthusiasm to see so many others inspired to create similar cryptocurrency projects.

At first, he began researching coins for investment purposes but soon became interested in developing something useful that he could contribute to the community. With a full-time job working in the legal department of an IT company, he was always on the lookout for websites that could provide quality information resources. Unable to find such a website solely focused on crypto white papers, he decided he needed to build it himself. 

The true value of a white paper

For van Rijck, there is nothing more indicative of a quality project than a solid white paper: ”I am 100% convinced that a white paper is an ideal form for project owners to provide potential investors with all the necessary information on their project.”

All technical, financial and commercial information about a project can be conveyed in plain enough language for readers to gauge their own interest and cast their own judgment on the project’s worth. It needs to describe the projects purpose, processes, future plans – ”the why and how”, as John puts it. This makes it difficult to convey all of the information necessary in a short video presentation as some teams have attempted.

Investing in a project that does not have a white paper runs up a whole lot of risks. Besides not being able to make a fully informed judgment on your investment, not having a written reference for what the project has promised may create issues at a later date.

Websites can change their information anytime and promises made via other channels are easier to back out from if there’s nothing written down,” John explains. He thinks that a white paper can be both a document forcing the team to stick to their promises and a useful means for investors to force the team to explain why they have deviated from their original plans.

While most of the time, this written proof of the project’s commitments can indicate a higher level of legitimacy, there is, unfortunately, no guarantee and some scams may even steal the work of others in order to look more credible. Van Rijck told Bitcoin News: ”I almost participated in scam initial coin offering (ICO) that had a proper white paper… This scamcoin used stolen pictures in their white paper for their product’s User Interface and their team photos were random pictures of some school board members in Australia.”

Investors cannot rely wholly on the white paper to judge the project. Further research is always required but the fact a project’s white paper exists for you to follow up with research is ”definitely a step in the right direction to avoid scams”.

Who is actually reading all of these white papers?

Van Rijck said, ”I think I read around 200-250 throughout the years. When I come across a project that I’m interested in, I always check out the white paper.”

Unless you are particularly tech-minded, he suggests that the token allocation, roadmap and the team are much easier to verify then the technology sections. Each white paper abstract or conclusion on the website has been manually copied and pasted by John so he has glanced through every one of these, although not read them thoroughly. Still, it sounds like he has read “blockchain” and “decentralization” recently perhaps more frequently than others. 

Despite his personal enthusiasm for white papers, he understands that this maybe isn’t shared by everyone.

I get that people may think that nobody will read the white paper and there’s no added value for the site but I honestly think that only the good projects will survive in the crypto market… In the last bull run, so many hyped coins got bought without any logic behind it, other than it was popular and rising fast, but I think this market is growing up and those unfit projects are slowly filtered out by people who’ve done their research,” he reasoned.

Not every project is worthwhile

Even a technically good white paper may not equal a very useful project; many projects do not have use cases and do not solve actual problems. Some may be established as a money grabbing attempt, provide a useless fork or simply be created to make a certain statement but van Rijck does not think these will be around long: ”Eventually, people will learn that these projects do not contribute anything to crypto and the world around it, so only the good projects will survive.”

This should lead to fewer scamcoins being developed and less inexperienced investors losing their cash in pump and dump schemes or overhyped projects.

Van Rijck points back to the white paper as a key help in filtering out projects and finding promises that cannot be kept or identifying solutions that the world simply is not waiting for. ”So many projects want to solve a problem through crypto, which doesn’t need solving at all since there are enough real-world solutions out there,” he noted, hoping that people would read the white paper to get a head start in identifying red flags. 

Creating All Crypto Whitepapers

So far, the All Crypto Whitepapers website offers around 1,600 white papers that can be accessed by anybody for free. Its creator used his background in IT to develop the website himself and quickly found ”everything takes a lot of time if you are doing so much yourself.”

He had help collecting each of the individual paper’s url but other than that developed each box, title, link, and text himself. With no prior marketing experience, setting up blogs, writing articles and working on SEO and SEM have been a large part of the learning curve.

And no, not every single crypto-related white paper is available on the website as it is currently missing around 300. He explained, ”The problem is that every day about 10-15 new coins are announced on Coinmarketcap. I try to list only the coins that are already being traded, to have some safeguard that it’s legit. But since this still is a one-man-show and I have a 9-to-5 and a family, I’m a bit behind.”

Despite this hectic schedule, he plans to have everything up to date in Q4 of this year and it is clear this is a project he truly cares about.

I just hope that people genuinely like what I’m trying to build for the community and come back to check out white papers if they found a project that interests them. If they see the website as the “Wikipedia for Crypto Whitepapers”, that would be the best outcome I can imagine”, he said. 

The future of the website

The website is already monetized, featuring several advertisements that allow John to reap some small rewards for the time he has spent creating it. This he reinvests into marketing in an attempt to grow the number of website visitors. Currently in talks with quality crypto-projects, in the future, he says people can expect to see a consistent ”white paper of the week” with participants featuring as the week’s star project. More features being considered include additional coin information, the embedding of white papers themselves, and maybe a community discussion board so people can contribute their own perspective on projects.

The man is still firmly focused on offering the best white paper database he can, however: ”I think that I shouldn’t stray much from the goal, which is being THE Wikipedia for crypto white papers and remaining the largest crypto white paper database in the world. There are many other great sites out there with different parts of info on crypto projects, which I do not intend to replace.”

He has no plans to sell the website in the near future as he is still enjoying the experience that can also help him perfect any future ventures.

You can visit All Crypto Whitepapers here to check out his work.

 

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SEC Slaps ICO Scammer with $30,000 Fine

David T Laurance has been issued a USD 30,000 penalty from the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) due to his connection with a fraudulent initial coin offering (ICO). He has also been barred from holding officer and director positions, or from trading in and owning penny stocks.

Laurance was the president and CEO of oil drilling company Tomahawk Exploration LLC, with whom he has been employed for eight years. Last year, he launched the ICO for the company’s new token, Tomahawkcoins, saying the funds raised would be used for oil exploration and drilling in California.

The SEC claims that the ICO provided false information during its promotion, including advertising inflated oil production projections and falsely claiming Tomahawk already held drilling permits for the sites in California. Additionally, Laurance was portrayed as an individual with a flawless background, when according to the SEC, he has been found guilty of involvement in deceitful security offerings prior to this conviction.

The ICO failed to raise the USD 5 million as planned but a bounty program was set up by the company to trade Tomahawkcoins for online promotional services. Laurance and Tomahawk have been issued cease and desist orders, while they chose to neither accept or deny the legitimacy of the claims.

The SEC used the opportunity to reissue a warning of scammers working with similar operations, with a press release for the case telling people to be wary of offers with unusually high returns on investment. A useful search tool provided by the SEC is Investor.gov that lists details of a variety of investment professionals.

Despite Laurance’s charges, a recent study indicates that ICOs account for under 2% of securities class action lawsuits. While any number is too high, it is at least beneficial for the industry that this number can be identified and made to face justice.

 

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Vietnamese Crypto Mining Farm Found Abandoned, Investors Missing $35M

The CEO of Vietnam-based cryptocurrency mining farm Sky Mining has reportedly absconded, leaving investors USD 35 million short.

Investors found an abandoned premises

The Sky Mining business structure offered people the chance to buy shares in the cryptocurrency mining hardware and collect a percentage of the profits. It advertised these profits at 300% in one year for a one-time payment between USD 100 and USD 5,000, as well as private use of a mining device for 15 to 18 months.

When the investors were told they may pick up their mining equipment from the business’s registered location, they instead found empty, closed premises. Upon further investigation, Sky Mining’s Phu Nhuan District office was also found abandoned.

CEO, Le Minh Tam, has been AWOL since Thursday; 5,000 investors are faced with losing an estimated total of USD 35 million.

No good news for investors

Local media outlet Thanh Nien published a letter reportedly from Tam who claimed his mining venture was no longer profitable and he was forced to sell the equipment to cover his losses, then run in fear for his life. In a new addition to the saga, Saturday he posted a Telegram chat video where he claimed he would return and restore the business to profitability.

Deputy chairman of Sky Mining Le Minh Hieu attempted to control the chaos by forming a board of 16 participants but was forced to disperse the group when he and his family became subject to death threats from angry investors. Hieu said that he too was a victim of Tam’s scam and has reported the threats to the police.

He said that he assumed Tam had retreated to the US with the investors’ money, noting that Tam most likely succeeded in his endeavor because he was responsible for directly managing the goings on of the mining equipment.

As of Monday, 20 investors have signed a joint complaint with the police department, with one investor taking her complaint to court after allegedly loosing approximately USD 269,000. Unfortunately, Vo Do Thang, Director of the Athena Network Security Training Center told VNexpress they had next to no chance of seeing their money returned.

 

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