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Scammers Using Fake News to Screw with Bitcoin Investors (buzzfeed.com)
115 points by pgrote 10 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 84 comments



I think the bigger danger is from groupthink expectation that the coin markets follow a boom-bust on an annual basis due to the Chinese New Year. They see now as a good time to pick up cheap coin from Asia. They expect to be 3x up in the Autumn and to ride a wild ride up next Christmas to come crashing down in the Chinese New Year.

These people believe there are only so many coins and that it is these coins that have value, regardless of how much they are worth in USD. For them it is how well their coin compares to bitcoin that matters. They think they can ride out any crash as they are 'bound' to be 10x up next year as more people start using crypto to store their wealth.

I do not believe that most people giving bad advice on coin are deliberately giving bad advice or aware that their advice is founded on poor information, fear and greed.

In this environment there is a frenzy to get in on the next ICO so scammers don't have to try very hard to scam.

I can see that a bitcoin miner has put together a business model and with that some risk management. They calculate the ROI and hopefully they get the numbers right and profit after paying off the kit.

However, I do not believe most coin 'investors' are doing risk management properly, they are like a herd of naive day traders from the 1990's losing their savings but getting ever more coin, thinking they are up because one of their coins is up against bitcoin.

It is not so much the scammers but the echo chamber and the FOMO that is the problem here.


This blog post made everything a lot clearer to me: https://davidgerard.co.uk/blockchain/2018/01/04/why-you-cant...

> [...] “market cap” is a misleading and useless number. If someone bought a fraction of a bitcoin at $19,000 per BTC, that doesn’t make anyone else a “Bitcoin billionaire” whose bitcoins could be sold at $19,000 each — the total actual money recoverable from the system hasn’t gone up.

> Try realising any substantial fraction of those paper billions and watch the price crash — the actual money doesn’t exist for everyone to cash out. At some point, there will be a rush for the exits, and most can’t possibly make it out with their “gains.”

If bitcoins were tulips, and some cosmic event made them deathly radioactive tomorrow, you wouldn't find any buyer, however steep your discount. But I suppose there'll still be open "buy" orders that will buy at $5000, or $1000, etc...


There are hundreds of coins out there. 99% of them will fail. Even the 1% is a silly investment when compared to physical gold.


Yes. As I keep on saying, the fact that there are so many coins is the demonstration that cryptocurrencies are not scarce and thus are not an alternative to gold.


This is a really good point, I hadn't thought of this before. Because of how many other options there are, the "scarcity" of Bitcoin is only real if there is something that is going to prevent other cryptocurrencies from being used, or promote Bitcoin above all others. Given that Bitcoin has been demonstrated to be inferior at scale vs. some of the other options, I don't see a reason to expect that it will continue to be the most prolific in the long term. By extension, there doesn't seem to be an obvious indication that any of them will see a lot of use in the long term.


It’s especially important when you think about mainstream adoption: the assumption is that the whole world will pile on board and make the early adopters fabulously rich but it seems at least as likely that some major companies would create their own alternative – possibly using the same software — and heavily promote it through their existing merchant accounts, cards, etc. rather be than letting someone else capture that profit.

Right now, the lack of consumer demand means there’s no reason to bother but if that changes I’d be surprised if nobody tried and there’s little lock-in to prevent people from bailing to whoever gives better terms.


Can you justify that? Other than jewelery and some industrial purposes what makes gold so valuable?


Jewelry and industrial uses do define the value of gold. Gold is not valuable from just being scarce. It is valuable because it is scarce and people want to use it. The price goes down when demand for jewelry goes down and goes up when demand for jewelry goes up.

There’s been a myth created by crypto currency activists that gold is just like crypto currency in that it’s valued simply as a value store, which is incorrect. Its use as a value store increases the value, but at its core the price is still dependent on the uses of gold. Over half of gold mined is used for jewelry or industry[1]. Yes, some is kept as investment, but that investment is based on the idea that people will continue to want gold jewelry.

[1] http://www.numbersleuth.org/worlds-gold/


Are you joking?

It has thousands of years of historical backing as a value store and has many extremely important uses in society, SOME OF WHICH are social (and that's not changing anytime soon).

This is cryptocurrency: http://bitcoinist.com/ripple-co-founder-worlds-richest-perso...

Cool, I have Ripple coins now...let's just go ahead and say these are more valuable than the US dollar, because...err...someone told me it's the future! It does all these things all the currencies can't! And my neighbor just remortgaged his home to invest a few months ago and now he's got a yacht! I better do it too. I think this bubble should be called collective insanity. At least with the housing market bubble, people were investing in actual, physical assets. That was, at the very least, intellectually justifiable.

Can Neopet dollars become a global currency as well, please? I think I have an account on there from way back

Edit: I scrolled to the bottom of the article I've just linked...stumbled onto this guy: https://kwhcoin.com/the-kwh-team/

This is literally like Ocean's 11. Again, at least casino chips are physical objects


As far as I understand, currencies have value because we all agree they do (or because there is a guaranteed fixed exchange rate for some other asset that we have all agreed has value). The extent to which a currency is a good store of value will be determined, again, by how many people believe it is legitimate and continue to accept it for transactions (though fiat currencies have a wrinkle where a central bank can produce an unlimited amount. In this case, the fiat currency is a good store of value to the extent that people believe the central bank won't do this). I don't see why there is any reason to believe that a digital currency could not succeed if enough people believe it has value.


The "comparison to fiat currency" is becoming a copypasta by now. The reality of the US dollar versus a bitcoin is so outlandishly different that it is getting painful seeing these things compared together. You might not see a reason why it might not succeed, but there are several thousand plausible reasons that are not based on delusions of grandeur that many other people, many of whom are intelligent and very influential, are aware of


Gold is more valuable than cryptocurrency because 1) for a “by acclamation” store of value, the thousands of years and billions of people who recognize gold as an asset is a big advantage, and 2) you can’t make “forks” of gold unlike Bitcoin Cash, Dogecoin, etc.


What's funny about this comment is that literally every extent currency in the world is a fork of gold.


Yes, but unlike Dogecoin, those currencies have an army, a navy, and a tax collection office to give them value.


I read a comment on Reddit where some people were speculating about the future of their coin. (This is a coin with "masternodes" that vote on how to spend a discretionary mining tax.) They speculated that one day they might vote to hire mercenaries to protect the coin's value.


At the point that you need to hire mercenaries to protect your coin's value, why not just use them to rob people, or extort protection payments?


I don't know, and I'm not sure how mercenaries would affect the coin's value, but the thought is scary, and it offers a potential counterpoint to the comment about coins not having militaries giving them value.


FWIW, China was on silver


if you fork bitcoin you don't make more bitcoin, a forked bitcoin coin isn't exchangeable with the original, bitcoin value is in the community who reconize it as an asset, how you say, people recognize gold as an asset. Except history bitcoin has many other advantages to gold, and history is not that huge argument, times change.


It's hard to fake and easy to store. It is also a hard resource to extract, so it serves as its own "proof of work" in cryptocurrency terms.


To piggy back on something you said: a big issue I noticed recently is that it seems a lot of the websites people use to track this stuff have charts in <other coin> vs. BTC rather than <other coin> vs. USD (or some other established currency). As BTC goes up and down, these charts are extremely misleading due to the volatility. This dramatically pushes things into fantasy speculation land since people are valuating their speculative investments based on another very speculative investment. If BTC drops in USD price, and your altcoin of choice gains slightly vs BTC, these charts would show a "gain" when I think in reality it is still a loss.


These are really old scams – it's just that they're now being applied to a different market.


> These are really old scams – it's just that they're now being applied to a different market

Bitcoin is the Conquistadors landing on the Americas and decimating the natives with foreign diseases.

Mainline markets had pump and dumps. People got wary and regulatory institutions were born to fight the malaise. The regulators were successful. Pump and dumps are largely unheard of in large-cap U.S. equities. With the threat neutered, common memory faded.

Blissfully unaware, investors relinquished the protection of their regulators, cursing them as they shut the door, and wandered out unprotected and unwary. Almost without delay the entire menagerie of foul schemes emerged: pump and dumps, exchange failures, ticker painting, Ponzi schemes, et cetera.


Around 2000, there was lots of email pump and dump spam in penny stocks. That's when small companies were doing IPOs. I used to get those and forward them to the SEC, which gradually made that stop. Now such spams are rare.

(My favorite two pump and dump spams from that era were BoysToys.com (GRLZ) and XcelPlus (XLPI). BoysToys.com was a strip club in San Francisco which did an IPO. Their SEC filings were detailed and very funny. XcelPlus sold some proprietary lubricant. Their site had a phony FAA endorsement. I sent a copy of that page to the appropriate FAA regional office, and a few weeks later, got a call from an anti-terrorism investigator. XLPI was claiming that the USAF was using their product, which, because their product wasn't approved for aircraft, attracted the attention of the military anti-sabotage investigators. I'm not sure how that came out, but XLPI is now valued at $0.0000010 per share.)


There are many investors blissfully aware that this is going on, they've put their money in only once they believed they could make gains from the Pyramid-Ponzi schemes - meanwhile creating talking points to derive legitimacy or create confusion and cognitive dissonance (at least long enough for them to exit the scheme).


>The regulators were so successful that pump and dumps are largely unheard of in large-cap U.S. equities.

Wasn't the 2008 stock market crash caused by the housing market being "pumped and dumped"?


No. In this context "pumped" isn't a synonym for "overpriced". It refers specifically to a few dozens of people buying, then hyping (pumping) a stock to tens of thousands of people, who then buy raising the price, allowing the original dozen of people to sell (dump) at a profit.


Investopedia defines pump and dump as:

>a scheme that attempts to boost the price of a stock through recommendations based on false, misleading or greatly exaggerated statements.

Is that not exactly what the ratings agencies and co were doing by giving trash securities AAA ratings?


> Is that not exactly what the ratings agencies and co were doing by giving trash securities AAA ratings?

This is an astute observation. In a pump and dump, someone lies to sell securities they own with the intention of selling into the inflated price. It's special because it requires no assessment of intent to prove. If you own a security, make false or misleading positive statements about it and then sell into the resulting rise, you pumped and dumped.

In 2008, ratings agencies expressed their opinion about a security in exchange for a fee from the issuer. The issuer pointed to those ratings to sell the securities. Everyone knew about the conflicts of interest involved. Selling a stupid product to informed investors isn't illegal. Selling a product you fail to disclose material facts about, or which you knowingly structure to fail, is. Determining whether someone "knowingly" did something is harder than showing they did it.

Side note: many complex, structured securities–like CLOs and CDOs–which lost value in the crisis ended up performing as expected, if one held on to them [1]. The ratings agencies were still very wrong about a lot of things. But fewer than we give them credit for.

[1] https://www.wsj.com/articles/hunt-for-yield-fuels-boom-in-cl...


The ratings agencies didn't benefit from the "pump" in this case. They just did a poor job of assessing the risk by buying into the idea that the risk was lessened by pooling the toxic assets together. If the ratings agencies were not "pumping and dumping" then who are you claiming are the pumper-dumpers?


> The ratings agencies didn't benefit from the "pump" in this case. They just did a poor job of assessing the risk by buying into the idea that the risk was lessened by pooling the toxic assets together. If the ratings agencies were not "pumping and dumping" then who are you claiming are the pumper-dumpers?

I got you. Ratings agencies are the affiliate scammers in this case. You're right, they didn't buy the scammy products or sell them, but they were paid by the product owners to represent the products as legitimate, which they did and made a ton of money. When the products turned out to hurt a lot of people, the ratings agencies/affiliate scammers threw up their hands with a "how could we have known?" while everyone who got hurt was saying "that is literally exactly what you said you were being paid to do, so if you didn't do that, then WTF were you getting paid for..."

Oh.


Not really, that was much more of a systemic issue, so it's difficult to point to one entity responsible. Those problems built up over years.

Pump and dumps by contrast have a much shorter time frame.


There is an interesting Twitter thread pointing it to Chrysler as the root cause https://twitter.com/KashannKilson/status/953740344369102848


>huge twitter thread with tons of gifs

Ugh, kill me.

But this doesn't line up to me, unless there were real estate companies and banks eager to unload their houses? I didn't think there was an excess of housing built that needed to be sold, but I could be wrong, because that would have pushed prices down. I thought the key failure was people being unable to pay their mortgages, and a bunch of financial products built off of expecting people to pay their mortgages, and ratings agencies giving incorrect ratings for those subprime mortgages.

The only connection I can see is people making dumb financial decisions, which is why a rubber stamp for subprime led to a ton of people defaulting. Houses don't really have the same faults as PT Cruisers.


So if a pump and dump gets big enough and goes on long enough, it can't be described as such? Even though the price was artificially inflated and investors were fed false information?


In a pump and dump scheme, usually an actor owned the instrument that was being "pumped". In the 2008 crisis, there were a large number of groups that was benefiting from the situation. A guy on Wall Street didn't own the houses that were being bought, nor was he directly lending the money for them.


>A guy on Wall Street didn't own the houses that were being bought, nor was he directly lending the money for them.

Right, it wasn't "a guy", it was banks like Goldman Sachs.

My question remains: if a pump and dump scales up to where "a large number of groups" benefit, rather than just "a guy on wall street", is it no longer considered a "pump and dump"?


> if a pump and dump scales up to where "a large number of groups" benefit, rather than just "a guy on wall street", is it no longer considered a "pump and dump"?

Not every fraud is a pump and dump, and not every stupid investment sale and purchase is a fraud. Most of 2008 was stupidity, not fraud. (Some was plain fraud.)

In any case, the pump and dump rules worked. Pump and dumps are trivial to organize. Draconian punishments raise the bar of minimum competence from script kiddies on a message board to LIBOR traders co-ordinating across banks. The complexity of the latter over the former means (a) it's harder to do (b) it's even harder to get away with it and (c) when you get caught, you can be found and fined and jailed.

Post-crisis, rules surrounding swaps and securitisations were modernized and re-written. Our financial system has changed in response. (Banks are, largely, more boring.)


A "pump and dump" scheme is planned around the dump. It is started with the intention that the instrument will be sold with the knowledge that it will have a negative impact on that instrument's price.

The group doing the pumping knows what's coming.

In 2008 banks didn't want it to happen. They would have happily kept doing what they were doing forever. Home buyers would have been happy buying more houses, real estate agents would have been making commission, mortgage lenders getting interest. Happy days!

There was negligence all round and the situation was unsustainable. Do you think the banks wanted it? Some foresaw the collapse and made money out of it but it cost the banks billions, ruined reputations, people lots their jobs. Yes, they got bailed out but they would have preferred to have not needed it in the first place.


What would you consider being the "dump" side of the housing market collapse?


The housing market itself. All the people who lost their houses, jobs and the lost life savings and pensions which were invested in said market.


Wasn't the 2008 stock market crash caused by the housing market being "pumped and dumped"?

"Pump and dump" requires both a "pump" and a "dump". I'm no expert on the housing market crash, but there doesn't seem anything close to a singularish entity that "dumped" after the housing market had been "pumped".


These are happening literally all the time, mcaffee's name has been used to pump a few of the coins but its not that effective anymore. there's a tool to spot them [1]

[1] https://coinzaa.com/tools/


This happens even in real markets let alone cryptocurrencies. You will find people pumping stocks on news that it might be bought by Amazon or something.


That’s true, but pumping and dumping is indeed co sidered securities fraud, so there’s an incentive not to do it in the stock market. Cryptocurrencies aren’t considered securities by definition, so it’s open season to whoever would like to participate in market manipulation.


> Cryptocurrencies aren’t considered securities

This has not yet been decided [1][2].

[1] https://www.bu.edu/jostl/files/2016/01/21.1_Alberts_Final_we...

[2] http://apps.americanbar.org/buslaw/newsletter/0014/materials...


And you have people trying to lobby for war, so certain stocks will perform better or worse; adding into the mix the ability to make money off of predicting future failure of a company/organization incentivizes bad behaviour even further.


This has been happening with stocks for quite some time e.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timothy_Sykes which included bots, astroturfing and fake soc net profiles.


There's an adage in poker that's applicable to crypto trading: if you don't know who the sucker is at the table....it's probably you.


One of the plot points of The Big Short that I found interesting was Mark Baum character finally discovering who was on the other side of the swap he buys from Jared Vennett at Deutsche Bank. And then you had the whole Florida subplot showing how the housing bubble entangled people all the way down the food chain.

I'm still not clear who the suckers are in these cryptocoin markets that are driving up the price. I'm starting to hear stories about barbers and janitors and friends of friends buying in. I guess it got popular enough in South Korea that the government had to step in.

How mainstream has crypto trading gone? Who are the suckers?


I'm still not clear who the suckers are in these cryptocoin markets that are driving up the price.

It's my coworker who is HODL'ing because "it's got better returns than our 401(k)".


> How mainstream has crypto trading gone? Who are the suckers?

I would say it's the early majority now. But it has reached the point where I see people following crypto stocks in the train regularly, and apparently all of my non-techie friends (teacher, historian, etc) all own a small chunk of crypto stocks now.


“Stocks”

That’s such an unfortunate metaphor for crypto.


Everyone except the exchanges, particularly bitfinex, and some people creating coins and ICOs... and some hackers here and there


My tinfoil hat theory is that there is currently a giant transfer (or several transfers) of wealth going on outside of the purview of regulators (e.g. evasion of sanctions). The big uptick was the dark money moving into bitcoin and other cryptos. The bullish HODL propaganda is meant to pull in people to (a) provide camouflage, and (b) buttress/stabilize the price so the dark money can get out. And the suckers are the average Joes who are going to be left holding the bag once all the dark money moves out.

This is pure speculation, and I have absolutely no evidence to back this up.


It's been reported many times on HN, that even VCs from SV invested in cryptocurrencies directly - example:

http://www.businessinsider.com/peter-thiels-founders-fund-in...

Not sure if they are the suckers or the pumpers in the context of the article.


It's a hard question with no good answer. However, if you are asking who the suckers are, you can be pretty sure you aren't a sucker. For the lurkers, if you are reading this on HN, odds are that you are not a sucker. That said, know your price and sell, don't try to game markets.


> if you are asking who the suckers are, you can be pretty sure you aren't a sucker

This is literally the opposite of the adage. It doesn’t say “if you never asked who the sucker is, you’re the sucker.” It’s “if you can’t identify the sucker, you’re the sucker.” With Bitcoin, everyone who isn’t an exchange or getting paid to promote an ICO is probably a sucker.


I don't believe so. The suckers are the barbers in the oilfields and Kennedy's shoe-shiners. If you are wise enough to know there are suckers in the first place, you'll likely take steps to avoid being one.


> The suckers are the barbers

In the adage about the shoe-shine boy handing out stock tips, the shoe-shine boy loses money. But so does everyone else. The non-suckers are the ones who sold and settled for cash before shit hit the fan.

> If you are wise enough to know there are suckers in the first place, you'll likely take steps to avoid being one

The entire history of frauds and schemes flies in the fact of this hypothesis. Let's pick apart a recent one: Bitconnect. Many participants seemed to know it was a Ponzi scheme. At the end of the day, only the organizers and paid promoters who cashed out their BCC came out ahead.


> Many participants seemed to know it was a Ponzi scheme

I mean, anyone that participates in a Pyramid scheme at any level is the definition of a sucker. Not a single one of them has ended well.


The problem is that the VC community and finance folk believe that they can maintain bringing enough of the masses to buy into these crypto-assets that they will gain "legitimacy" in that enough people will have a vested interest in them maintaining a certain value; all holders then of course will want to perpetuate its adoption until all of society is legitimizing its "present value."


.. know when to hodl 'em, know when to fodl 'em?


You're not allowed to make decisions in the crypto meme sphere. Only hodl.


If you don't know who the bag holder is going to be, it is you!


The decentralized nature of cryptocurrencies means that implementing countermeasures to market manipulation is severely hampered. It's a fatal flaw of to the idea of cryptocurrencies as something socially useful.


This is also called having 'weak hands' by the cryptocurrency community.


Offtopic pet peeve: I'm really annoyed that "Fake News" seems to have replaced the perfectly cromulent "disinformation". What's worse it's even commonly used as-is in french as well, because apparently it's still cool to drop random english words while speaking french.


Additional observation: it's also interesting to me that the term seems to be having a resurgence of late?

It started out largely being an accusatory term used by the American political left to disparage biased and/or incorrect information spread by Trump supporters (mostly, anyway). But then Trump and his supporters decided two could play at that game, and it became almost exclusively a term used by the Trump/Fox News crowd to bash the left.

As a result, the left stopped using it as quickly as they had started, and the term all but disappeared from respectable news sources.

Now, a year and change later, it seems to be coming back.

No point here other than it's fascinating how trends in culture stop, start, and change with time.


No, "fake news" refers to a very specific phenomenon. It's not just any kind of misleading or incorrect reporting. Trump was the one to start saying "not fake news, YOU'RE fake news", but the phenomenon as initially encountered was about shoddy and small fraudulent websites, often trying to deceive their audience to believe that they were a different website, pushing the most anger-inducing news. It wasn't about left vs right (and why are those the only two options, argh).

It's a far cry from the NYT or Fox News reporting incorrect things, whether deliberately or not, to someone called Foxx News or Non York Times reporting that Islam causes prostate cancer.

If you look at the list here, it's all over the political spectrum, some of it is just plain apolitical scams like the Hawking Scam on a CNN knockoff website or celebrity stalking:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fake_news_websites#Lis...


I don't disagree with you that "fake news" started out as a reference to a very specific phenomenon... it's just interesting that the term very quickly became a political cudgel. I think the transition from useful, specific term to political weapon is part of what makes it an intriguing study in how terms disseminate in culture. It's like "disruptive" - a highly specific term referencing a very particular business strategy that got abused to mean just about anything people wanted as it had its moment of popularity.

I also sympathize with your frustration with politics being framed as left/right. I consider myself pretty libertarian, so I often find myself raging against that divide. Nevertheless, that doesn't change the fact that as a matter of practical reality, politics in this country is framed that way, and that shapes how terms are used, how arguments are made, and how things are portrayed in the media...


Is there some reason that I'm seeing the word "cromulent" more and more now? (for those not in the know the word is originally from a Simpsons episode in the mid 90's)


I think the trend you are noticing is real. Simpson's memes and shit-posting is on the rise everywhere.

A Bart Simpson joke was a MAJOR part of this weeks Saturday Night Live.

(This Aussie Rapper’s ‘Simpsons’-Referencing Track Is Cromulent AF) http://www.moshtix.com.au/v2/news/musicnews/this-aussie-rapp...

What I don't understand is the EXTREME uptick in "cromulent" from Google Trends on May, 28th. If someone with stronger Google-Fu could figure it out that would be cool.


I had a friend in high school that liked using it 15 years ago, and I've basically never heard anyone else using it regularly.


I haven't noticed any particular uptick, myself - I see it occasionally, and always smile a little when I notice it.


I actually think it's fairly useful word. I've used it seriously on more than one occasion to mean "logically constructed according to the rules of word formation". It's handy if you're prone to building new words from Latin roots etc.


Obvious doublespeak is obvious. Easy to proclaim critical voices as fake news and get a different reaction from the public than with "desinformation"


Two syllables vs five for a commonly used concept. I think that's all there is to it.


s/investors/speculators/g


Speculators are a type of investor.


and, being a subset, his point still stands.


This is just a link to the Hacker News front page.


I appreciate your comment.


I generally disregard bitcoin speculation and opinion articles. Not just because it seems bitcoin market prices are hard to predict, but also due to the fact that bitcoin, being an unregulated market(for better or worse), means that otherwise illegal practices for the stock market(e.g. pump and dump) are legal.




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