The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has announced that it will sponsor a workshop designed to help investors avoid cryptocurrency scams.

The workshop, dubbed “Decrypting Cryptocurrency Scams,” will be held in Chicago on June 25 at DePaul University. The event, which is free and open to the general public, will begin at 1 pm CT and will also be live-streamed on the agency’s website.

The event page does not list who will be speaking at the event, but it does state that it will “bring together consumer groups, law enforcement, research organizations, and the private sector to explore how scammers are exploiting the public interested in cryptocurrencies…and to discuss ways to empower and protect consumers.”

The workshop will teach investors about a variety of common cryptocurrency scams, including bait-and-switch schemes, fraudulent investment products, and deceptively-marketed mining machines.

“As consumer interest in cryptocurrencies has grown, so has interest from scammers, who are always looking for new ways to take advantage of consumers,” the FTC said in a statement. “The FTC has worked to educate consumers about cryptocurrencies and hold fraudsters accountable.”

In March, the FTC filed a restraining order against four Florida-based individuals who operated Bitcoin Funding Team and My7Network, which the agency alleges are cryptocurrency scams meant to grift money from would-be investors. The defendants’ assets have also been frozen while they await a formal trial.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) have also brought numerous suits against alleged cryptocurrency scams, highlighting the fact that fraudsters often congregate around exciting investments and technologies of which many consumers have little concrete knowledge.

Private companies have also taken aim at the rampant fraud that pervades the fringes of this burgeoning industry. Google, Facebook, and Twitter have all banned cryptocurrency-related advertisements in recent months, alleging that these ads had in many cases been used to promote fraudulent products.

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sec ico pr

Today, the US Securities and Exchange Commission issued a press release regarding the IPO of PlexCoin stating that it had obtained an emergency asset freeze with the intention of stopping the ICO (Initial Coin Offering, see below) ‘scam’ that had gained traction extremely quickly. PlexCoin, the currency in question had raised $15 million in a month from a large number of investors. The SEC filed a complaint in a New York federal court stating that Dominic Lacroix, their partner Sabrina Paradis-Royer, and PlexCorps had sold PlexCoin over the internet to a large number of investors, claiming that it would provide a 1354% profit in less than a month. All three have been charged with violating anti-fraud provisions, while Dominic Lacroix and PlexCorps have also been charged with violating the registration provision in US federal securities law. The SEC has stated it also wishes to file permanent injunctions and discouragement with interest against all three, and that it wishes to ban both Dominic and Sabrina from offering digital securities in the future, and Dominic from holding an officer or director position in a public company.

PlexCoin is the first ICO scam punished by SEC, but not the first ICO scam

These are the first charges filed by the SEC’s new cyber unit, and the chief of the unit, Robert Cohen stated: “This first Cyber Unit case hits all of the characteristics of a full-fledged cyber scam and is exactly the kind of misconduct the unit will be pursuing”. Other ICO scams in the past include Langpie.

What is an initial coin offering?

Initial Coin Offerings are cryptocurrencies where you can purchase some currency before the coin launches. It is typically used as a form of crowdfunding for cryptocurrencies to get off their feet, for example, ethereum used an ICO in 2014 before its launch in July 2015. ICOs are also used as a scam, as it does not require much other than a website and some false promises – So long as you can get exposure and you make the right promises, there is quite a bit of (illegal) profit to be made

ico scam example

This is a story of a poorly executed ICO scam called Langpie. The Langpie pre-sale is planned for later today and the ICO is set for November 2017. As an editor in chief, I have a strong nose for BS. As anybody who has been in the Bitcoin space for awhile can tell you, this industry attracts the absolute worst BSers in the world. After being made aware of certain scammy aspects of this particular ICO, I had to take a deeper dive. I’ve read the Langpie “whitepaper” so you don’t have to, but I still recommend that you do just for a few laughs.

The Langpie ICO scam investigation

A few days ago, I stumbled upon a Hacker News post by a thoroughly flabbergasted developer – we’ll call him K at his request. He had noticed that his GitHub and other social media accounts, including his profile picture, were being used to promote an ICO. His HN post read:

“I just found out that somebody is using my picture, name and links to social networks in what seems to be an ICO scam website. They pretend to be a translation app on top of blockchain technology and listed me as part of the team working on the app which I am not. I am not sure what to do! Any ideas?”

I contacted him for more information – K emailed me quickly, and explained fully:

I was contacted by Nastya Moroz, also in the same team, on Facebook messenger at first she said that she have some questions about the blockchain. I thought it was strange that a random person is just reaching out to ask me about something I have very little knowledge about. So I was looking into her profile and that’s how I found the website.

Nastya Moroz, the supposed Project Manager for Langpie, reached out to their supposed blockchain developer, after already listing him on the site. The story gets more bizarre still:

“This person kept contacting me on messenger this time saying she have something important to talk about regarding her company, and when I faced her with the fact that they’re using my name and picture without my permission, she said it was a mistake and asked that I tell no body, probably to not mess with their ICO that starts in 2 days.”

The Langpie website no longer has K’s profile picture and social media links – they have been replaced with another person’s profile picture, Facebook and GitHub link. This new blockchain developer profile, along with Nastya Moroz’s profile, both claim to be a former employees of Open Solutions – a Russian tech consulting company. I think it’s safe to say that Langpie doesn’t have a blockchain developer, or any developer whatsoever.

Both Open Solutions and Langpie did not respond to requests for comments by the time of publication.

Signs you might be running an ICO scam

1. Your blockchain developer isn’t actually a blockchain developer
2. Your blockchain developer has no idea who the hell you are
3. You willfully confuse profit and revenue in your whitepaper
4. You don’t know what burning cryptocurrency means
5. ???
6. Don’t Profit

Langpie is generating buzz on the promise of transforming the online translation industry. The same way that experts have pinned Bitcoin as a digital competitor to gold, and estimated that Bitcoin’s price would be $X if it could only hit Y% of the gold market cap, or the credit card fraud volume, or international trade flows, etc. The stated target industry for Langpie is the $1.713 billion over-the-phone interpreting market. Langpie promises that, with a heavy marketing campaign paid for by your funding, they’ll be able to capture 20% of that market by 2020. Starting off though, the Langpie whitepaper author claims:

“Our company expects to conquer and occupy about 10% of the market share by the end of 2019, the estimated profit will be 171 million US dollars of profit per year.”

Wait a minute, I thought your profits came from 5% commissions? And aren’t those commissions burned (technically having their value evenly distributed among the remaining coin holders, even those that didn’t participate in the transaction)? Wouldn’t Langpie’s profit, if they did even keep 5% of every successful Langpie smart contract transaction, be a lot smaller than $171 million? And jeez that sure sounds deflationary if 5% of every transaction gets burned – in the event that people actually use this scam coin, what happens to the supply?

In the infamous words of Billy Mayes: “But wait, there’s more!”

The whitepaper goes on to address this economic point…

“After several years, in case of insufficiency of tokens the system will generate new tokens which will be sold through the exchange market, 80% of the profit from that crowdsale would be distributed proportionally between the users, the rest of 20% would be spent on improvement of the system, equipment and for employment of additional staff.”

That’s right, they’re promising current pre-sale and ICO participants a chunk of their future crowdsale which will happen in several years. The money generated from the planned pre-sale and ICO are earmarked as such: 46% for marketing, 7% for tech infrastructure, and 15% for R&D – they clearly have their priorities straight, just check out their Bitcointalk thread and see the type of marketing they’re currently promoting. One big ICO scam sin is having bounty programs for publications to write about your ICO – and Langpie is no different. Langpie paid for press releases on several cryptocurrency news publications and claims on their website that they have received “coverage” by these sites. Langpie proudly displays them on their homepage with a simple message: “Press love us!” Let’s not get into the current sorry state of the digital currency media space, that such a project was able to gain any steam at all. Very technically, I could try and claim a chunk of the Langpie Blogs/Media promotion bounty with this article – not that I’m likely to ever get a response from this fake project.

The current effort, and planned future effort, is all for marketing and nothing for tech/dev. If the dev work on the translation app is completed, and that’s the reason why there aren’t any real blockchain developers on this supposed blockchain project, then why not demo it? I could sit here and ask questions all day, but we already know the answer.

If you didn’t notice any of these red flags, you just might be wearing rose colored glasses – and you definitely shouldn’t be involved in ICO speculation. They’re hoping to raise a minimum of $150,000 and a cap of $400,000 in their pre-sale tomorrow – let’s make sure that doesn’t happen. They’re planning their full ICO in November – for the sanity of this industry, that can’t happen either. If you see someone tweeting or talking about Langpie or any other sketchy ICO – please, please, please link them to this article.

Thanks again to K for bringing this to my attention, I truly hope that revealing the Langpie ICO scam for what it is helps to make up for any potential damage that Langpie has caused for K’s and the blockchain industry’s reputation.