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6 red flags of an ICO scam

ICOs have opened to most of the people investments in blockchain ventures. In the 1/3 quarter of 2017 by myself, ICOs raised greater than $1.three billion for crypto ventures — roughly 5 instances greater than investment raised via project capital within the blockchain house.

There had been greater than 200 ICOs in 2017, and undertaking due diligence on all of them could be extraordinarily time-consuming, even for a a professional analyst, let by myself an newbie investor. This is compounded via the truth that blockchain continues to be thought to be to be an early-stage generation, with new consensus mechanisms and use circumstances being advanced each day.

With exponential expansion in public passion, esoteric terminology and a lax regulatory framework, it isn’t surprising that some ICOs were used to fund scams and cheat buyers of their cash.

While not anything can compete with high quality due diligence, realizing which red flags to search for in an effort to steer transparent of scams or unhealthy ICOs may also be useful.

Use case does no longer require blockchain

Not each and every project wishes a blockchain, and no longer the whole thing must be decentralized. This may appear glaring, however with the entire hype round blockchain generation and its disruptive attainable, it may be simple to latch directly to an concept the instant its whitepaper mentions a big business the undertaking is purportedly tackling.

Even initiatives that require cryptocurrencies as cost (e.g. Steemit, which rewards writers on its platforms with a local “digital points system,” Steem) may just really well live on with current cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ether.

When comparing an ICO, a just right first query to invite is: “Do we need a blockchain or a native token for this project?” If the solution is not any to each, chances are high that the ICO undertaking is an instance of solutionism — crypto for crypto’s sake — or a scam.

Empty repositories for open-source initiatives

If an ICO undertaking is proposing open-source code, an empty or nonexistent GitHub is steadily a red flag.

One of the important thing characteristics of many public blockchain initiatives is the truth that they’re open-sourced. This approach the code base is steadily uploaded to repositories like GitHub for all to inspect. For those that have blockchain programming enjoy, having a look throughout the printed code can let them gauge a undertaking’s validity.

If one thing turns out like a scam, it most likely is.


One of the obvious red flags for a scam undertaking is the shortage of element on how the generation works. For nontechnical buyers, it may be useful to easily take a look at if a undertaking has any current information uploaded to public repositories or if a undertaking has a functioning product.

While Reddit is normally no longer an beneficial supply for funding recommendation, sub-threads devoted to discussions of explicit ICOs or crypto belongings steadily be offering a just right access level for the extra technical opinions.

Mining construction disproportionately favors construction staff

While no longer at all times an correct litmus check for scams on their very own, the provision agenda and mining construction of an ICO can be utilized to cross-reference different information issues and validate the aim of the founders.

In easy phrases, a premine refers to when a portion of the tokens for a crypto undertaking is made to be had to a small workforce previous to being made publicly to be had. At instances, this is a important car to praise builders and early buyers. However, if the proportion of overall tokens provided all through the lifetime of the undertaking reserved for a premine is excessive, there may be reason why for worry.

For example, Paycoin, whose founder used to be discovered accountable of working a $nine million fraud scheme, had the bulk of their tokens reserved for builders at the undertaking. Favoring the advance staff might be an indication that the staff’s intent is to maximise their private monetary achieve from the appreciation of the token, reasonably than deal with the viability of the blockchain community through the years.

Anonymous staff or staff with susceptible enjoy

Understanding who’s at the staff in the back of a blockchain undertaking is most likely an important step for your due diligence. Even if the idea of the project and the addressable marketplace appear sexy, one of the most important determinants of a project’s good fortune is the make-up of the staff in the back of it.

It is steadily a red flag if the staff in the back of an ICO does no longer have any named full-time builders. Additional warning will have to be taken if none of the management staff has any area wisdom within the explicit vertical.

When having a look at a staff and verifying their enjoy, platforms like Twitter and ConnectedIn are helpful. However, it’s essential to notice that they don’t seem to be infallible, as profiles may also be faked. If participants of the staff declare prior affiliation with universities or firms, double-checking with respected third-party assets (e.g. a school newspaper or the corporate site) can give you the details.

ICOs steadily listing their advisors on their web sites. You will have to additionally check whether or not the counselors are professional.

Insufficient knowledge on site/whitepaper

If one thing turns out like a scam, it most likely is. When you’re undecided whether or not a undertaking is a scam, it’s higher to err at the aspect of warning. While it’s conceivable that the shortage of well-designed web sites and detailed knowledge for a crypto undertaking is for the reason that undertaking continues to be in its infancy, it may be arduous to resolve whether or not a undertaking is underdeveloped or a scam.

In many circumstances, they are able to be each. In the ones circumstances, buyers can both wait for more info (corresponding to within the case of Asia-based ICOs, the place knowledge is simplest translated into English afterward within the undertaking), or just keep away from ICOs they don’t absolutely perceive.

Nothing can compete with high quality due diligence.


Another the most important supply of knowledge for all ICOs is the whitepaper — the report that outlines the project, technical main points, staff and different the most important main points in the back of the project. While the newbie investor would possibly not have the technical background to totally perceive each and every side of a whitepaper, basic working out of blockchain ideas is a should when comparing whitepapers.

Some extra professional initiatives (e.g. Ethereum) be offering a high-level whitepaper outlining the important thing issues of the project, along an in depth technical report that explains the generation in the back of the undertaking.

No transparent roadmap

Typically, ICO initiatives listing their investment and construction targets on a transparent timeline for buyers to look. The lack of a transparent roadmap may just point out that the growing staff has no long-term plan for the undertaking, and as such might be motivated only via non permanent monetary achieve. Paired with a big premine reserved for the growing staff, this can be a robust indicator that an ICO undertaking isn’t to be relied on together with your cash.

Often, ICO initiatives can have devoted Slack or Telegram channels that the general public can sign up for. Through periodic updates allotted on those channels, attainable buyers can get a way of how the undertaking is growing.

However, malicious scammers can simply create a timeline out of skinny air or supply pretend updates on chat apps. While the shortage of a timeline is without a doubt a red flag, the lifestyles of one isn’t an entirely enough situation to signify the legitimacy of an ICO undertaking.

Featured Image: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

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