A pump and dump scheme is a form of masses manipulation fraud that has been around for decades and originally focused on the equity markets. More specifically, on small-cap stocks, now it’s also present on cryptocurrency space, particularly on low cap token markets that can be easily manipulated.
According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the largest of a dozen the paper analyzed is the Big Pump Signal, a chatroom with greater than 74,000 followers that communicated on the messaging app Telegram. After launching in the end of December, the group talked up 26 pump operations that resulted in $222 million in trades, the Wall Street Journal reported. Other groups exist, which the WSJ said could add tens of millions more in activity. The other groups also operate in private chatrooms that require an invitation.
The scams came on the heels of initial coin offerings in which startups sell digital tokens to raise funding for their projects. ICOs drew in around $20 billion during the past year-and-a-half, up from $300 million raised from 2014 to 2016.
According to the WSJ, Big Pump will announce a date, time and exchange for the pump — that lets traders know to create a buying frenzy only to turn around and quickly sell. The scam can take place in minutes, with those who are successful publicly gloating about it. The WSJ pointed to a day in July in which Big Pump Signal told followers to start purchasing CloakCoin, a relatively unknown crypto coin. The price of CloakCoin surged on the Binance cryptocurrency exchange after the signal from Big Pump. Prices of the other digital tokens on the exchange didn’t move during the day’s rise in CloakCoin. It jumped 50 percent before dropping by almost $1 two minutes later. $1.7 million in trades were executed in a digital token that had no trading in the hour prior.
While the paper couldn’t say the exact number of pump and dump schemes that are going on with cryptocurrencies, it did say it found 63 actively going after a scheme — with many of the groups not even hiding their aims, using names like MEGA Pump and Orion Pump, for example. Most use messaging apps Telegram and Discord, which combined have 236,000 followers as of the end of June. Many of the groups charge monthly fees that could be $50 to as much as $250 and require users to evangelize the service to gain access. While the operator of the pump and dump chat room stands to benefit the most, for traders it’s not always a win — but the allure of being involved keeps them coming back, noted the report.