Plus Token is not behind the recent Bitcoin price crash, but as scam activity peaks amid the pandemic they may still affect the market. Bolstered by the new coronavirus pandemic, scams continue to be rampant in the cryptocurrency world. From malware to fake investment programs and even fake donations to health organizations, scammers are known for taking advantage of desperate times and desperate people. One of the most prominent scams in the industry, Plus Token, has come under the spotlight again after rumours emerged that the March crash was caused by its operators selling their stolen Bitcoin (BTC).
According to research by Chainalysis, a blockchain analysis. Currently Chainalysis sought to bring clarity to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cryptocurrency markets by analysing key points in on-chain data such as exchange inflow and more.
During the demonstration, Philip Gradwell, the chief economist at Chainalysis, addressed a somewhat common opinion that the crypto market crash that happened March 12 to March 13 was caused by PlusToken liquidating the Bitcoin acquired through its Ponzi scheme, which came to around $2.9 billion, according to Chainalysis.
According to Chainalysis data, PlusToken movements to exchanges decreased severely before the crash, which indicates funds were already cashed out. A noticeable amount of 12,423 Bitcoin, worth $123 million at the time, was moved to a mixer or cold wallet followed by a similar amount in early. It is possible that the Bitcoin was cashed out immediately to avoid exchanges freezing funds.
Not the end for PlusToken
PlusToken may still have 61,229 Bitcoin, currently worth around $420 million, according to a report released by OXT Research. While some Bitcoin has been sold after the crash, low prices seem to discourage those behind PlusToken from selling, if they are still in fact holding such large quantities of Bitcoin. It is possible that the PlusToken operators may be waiting for the Bitcoin halving to capture a higher price.
According to Chainalysis, volumes prior to and during some time were much higher than those observed currently. The accentuated inflows were discussed in another Chainalysis report where it took another stance on the PlusToken and Bitcoin price relation, stating that at the time the selloffs from PlusToken were keeping Bitcoin prices down.
Although PlusToken has largely cashed out, there is still a chance it will continue to affect Bitcoin. According to Kim Grauer, the head of research at Chainalysis, a large sell-off by PlusToken could bring down the price of Bitcoin in the future, especially if liquidations are executed irresponsibly.
“We found in the past that large inflows to exchanges, such as those from PlusToken last year, tend to increase the price volatility on exchanges. This problem can potentially be exacerbated by trading bots that pick up on those on-chain movements and execute trades, not to mention the highly leveraged positions on derivatives exchanges that can get liquidated rather quickly. But overall, prices tend to bounce back quickly from those one-off events.”
Plus Token: a crypto scam unicorn
Plus Token, now known as the biggest cryptocurrency exit scam in history Ponzi scheme that defrauded investors out of $2.9 billion in cryptocurrency assets by posing as a South Korea-based crypto wallet project that offered depositors interest in crypto, a practice that has become fairly common in decentralized finance applications, centralized banking applications and exchanges offering margin trading.
Plus Token explained that its high interest payments would be generated by exchange profits, mining and referral programs. Short-sighted by the promising gains, over 3 million users registered with Plus Token. The scheme even announced that it expected to grow to 10 million users by the end of 2019, shortly before it exited with depositors’ money.
In China, Plus Token was quickly exposed as a Ponzi scheme when six individuals were arrested by Chinese, with reports connecting them to the Plus Token project. The cybersecurity firm Cipher Trace released its second quarter Cryptocurrency Anti-Money Laundering Report that confirmed the connection to the Plus Token scam.
COVID-19: Crypto scams on the rise
Interest-generating products have been gaining evermore popularity in the crypto sphere, decentralized protocol, which according to a report by DappRadar saw peak activity, and other centralized options such as BlockFi’s banking app or Binance’s lending services. Although crypto has always been prone to illicit activity and shady ventures, the relatively high interest rates practiced in these services may have helped normalize Plus Token’s profit claims, easing unwary investors.
Similar models have been seen elsewhere, a cryptocurrency wallet project from Nigeria called Satowallet allegedly made off with $1 million in a smaller-scale exit scam. Another Ponzi scheme promising returns from cloud mining also made headlines after pulling off a $200 million exit scam that later resulted in 14 individuals being arrested.
An ever-increasing number of “topical” crypto-schemes have surfaced since the worsening of the coronavirus pandemic, from fake donation campaigns for the World Health Organization and the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention to fraudsters impersonating officials from these agencies who can sell information on active infections for a price, paid with Bitcoin of course.
Now more than ever, cryptocurrency holders need to be wary of crypto scams. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations recently issued a press release in which it warned of the potential increase of “cryptocurrency-related fraud schemes” during the COVID-19 pandemic, adding:
“There are not only numerous virtual asset service providers online but also thousands of cryptocurrency kiosks located throughout the world which are exploited by criminals to facilitate their schemes. Many traditional financial crimes and money laundering schemes are now orchestrated via cryptocurrencies.”
Although tough times create a perfect chaotic setting for scammers to operate in, it’s relieving to know that despite the increased activity and novel coronavirus-related scams, revenue for crypto scammers fell by around 30% in March. Despite taking on new forms, cryptocurrency scams are almost as old as crypto itself. For example, One Coin — one of the most prominent names when it comes to cryptocurrency-related scams — was founded in 2014 and it is still making headlines in crypto media. Although One Coin has been sued, the lead plaintiff for the ongoing $4 billion class-action suit against the project.
Can exchanges stop illicit transactions?
According to Chain alysis, most of the funds moved by the Plus Token scam were liquidated in two Asian exchanges: Huobi and OKEx. This has raised some concerns about exchanges’ Know Your Customer practices, which do not seem to have been useful when it came to spotting or censoring the transactions from PlusToken.
Although other sources were used, they were small in comparison to the inflows to the exchanges. Th eChainalysis had “found traces of funds at mining pools, mixers, other scams, and p2p exchanges, but the paths were too small to be interrogated.”
If cryptocurrency schemes are to be stopped, exchanges should ideally act as a final barrier for illicit transactions. Responding to past criticism, it is aiming to improve its security measures by launching Star Atlas, an on-chain monitoring tool that can identify “crimes like fraud, money, laundry and other problematic activities.” Moreover, data providers like Chainalysis and Crypto Compare to build a more transparent and compliant ecosystem, a measure that will surely be essential for institutionalization and regulatory compliance going forward.
“While we may be able to identify illicit activities when they reach our exchanges and prevent their outflow, we can't yet prevent illicit transactions that start outside of our platform. However, we believe that collaborative efforts among industry players, including but not limited to information sharing, are the key to success to create a safer friendly ecosystem for the crypto industry to grow.”
While efforts to reduce illicit transactions are being undertaken by users should always be aware of possible fraud attempts and conduct meaningful diligence into any project they are willing to trust with their coins, as it is unlikely they’ll get them back once lost.