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HoweyCoins – An educational tool to alert investors to possible fraud (howeycoins.com)
419 points by ChrisArchitect on May 16, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 130 comments

I really want to meet the team at the SEC who put this together. The level of trolling the ICO community is incredible.

Not sure if anyone else opened the white paper, but it is acutally better than most of the ICO papers I read in general.

There are gems like:

> "Upon a successful ICO, the nondisclosure agreements terminate and we will be able to disclose the largest network of travel partners"

> "we expect a bidding war to increase HoweyCoins valuations by severalfold."

I think you missed the best gem, under the Stay Tuned section

> "Once in, we will provide expert timing advice to make sure tier 1 and limited offer tier 2 participants maximize immediate gains with a pre-planned pump to occur shortly after the pre-ico phase ends. Our past two pumps have doubled value for the period immediately after the pump for returns of over 225%."

> At launch, we will have two of the world’s largest airline alliances and a possible third signed on as HoweyCoins partners. The top three airline alliances accounted for over 60% revenue passenger miles in 2015.

Do note that the wording leaves open (and even implies) that the airline alliances they'd partner with _don't_ account for 60% of revenue passenger miles in 2015.

The PDF is a wonderful document, it also has an entirely incorrect description of how inflation works.

The title of the PDF is golden:

Microsoft Word - HoweyCoin White Paper v4

Unfortunately there are far too many women and people of color on that team for it to be believable.

(Stole this comment from a friend, but...worth it.)

“Better than most ICO papers”? That’s not exactly a high bar.

This is funny and effective to the point that it seems it should somehow be illegal

In its hubris the SEC forgot one thing, the most important thing, the only thing...yes the SEC knows the law well, but this is smart contracts, Case Law/precedent/stare decisis don’t apply to ICOs...the code is the law

Which is worth the paper it's written on.

Good luck arguing that novel legal theory when in front of a judge on a fraud or tax evasion trial.

It’s sarcasm, I forgot the doesn’t exist on HN. My post history shows from day one I called DAO snake oil, and code is Law bullshit, and shows how much crap I took for that here on HN. But if the SEc can have a sense of humor about it why can’t I? They really did miss an opportunity to use the smart contract marketing though...

Fraud is against the law, even if you write a contract for how you're going to do it.

Probably named after the Howey Test (https://consumer.findlaw.com/securities-law/what-is-the-howe...) which is pretty clever.

> Under the Howey Test, a transaction is an investment contract if:

> 1. It is an investment of money

> 2. There is an expectation of profits from the investment

> 3. The investment of money is in a common enterprise

> 4. Any profit comes from the efforts of a promoter or third party

I don't know if the crypto-currency community have a widely accepted view of how this applies to specific currencies, but I feel that "store of value" / HODL coins are dangerously close to failing the Howey Test and thus not being accurately classed as currencies.

Most people in the crypto community know that the majority of ICOs are illegal securities offerings. And by ‘in the community’ I mean people who run funds and regularly go to industry events with other fund managers, not people subscribed to random crypto subreddits.

People in the industry generally know who is dirty and likely to get indicted.

The crazy thing is, their marks see this as validation. “The SEC warns about them, because they will revolutionize banking”

I read this and thought of the line about the universe creating bigger and better idiots. It seems to me that these scams are literally transmuting the seemingly limitless font of human greed into an evolutionary pressure that produces more gullible rubes.

I find it ironic that in a world where we've never ever had more information at our fingertips, that "investors" should be so ignorant of (recent!) history.

What are some examples of ICOs that are not illegal securities offerings?

Whether or not it's an illegal security offering, I'm not entirely sure because I don't fully understand the law. However, a hypothetical example of one purported not to be illegal would be something like crowdfunding a game. You sell tokens that will be redeemed for a copy of the game when it is finished. This would allow people who change their mind half way through to freely sell their game token to someone else who wants to buy the game (presumably at a loss since otherwise the other person would just buy the game token from the developers). There are probably lots of places where you might get in trouble though. For example, if you increased the price of the token over time, then people might buy the initial token with the expectation that they will be able to sell it for a profit later, when the developer-bought token becomes more expensive. Especially if you state that the price will increase over time, I think you're going to be in trouble (but, like I said, I don't really understand that law).

I think such a scheme, if done carefully, might actually be useful. One of the problems with things like kickstarter is that you see the plan of what's going to be done, fund the project and then half way through you see that the plan has changed, or the delivery schedule has changed and you want out. There is no way to derisk your pre-purchase.

Having said that, I have seen no actual examples of ICOs that I think are legal.

Late reply and IANAL but I don't believe you can actually do a token model where the people buying tokens early on pay less for them than they will be priced at later. Pretty sure that doesn't pass the Howey Test[1] because there is an expectation of profit. And if there isn't an expectation of profit there is little to no incentive to have a token, kickstarter would work.

1. https://consumer.findlaw.com/securities-law/what-is-the-howe...

While I don't know of any that have done this, an ICO could register their offering with the SEC, i.e. go public with all that entails, or operate within the exemptions from registration. I think their whole goal includes circumventing that stuff so as to lie better, which speaks to the attitudes and shadiness involved. The rules are indeed too onerous, but not only is the historical reason they came into existence still applicable, it's applicable to exactly this kind of scam.

> Most people in the crypto community know that the majority of ICOs are illegal securities offerings

The SEC has already said as much in respect of ICOs.

As far as I can tell, the SEC statements have changed almost nothing. Most people understood the situation even before the SEC said anything, some people still refuse to acknowledge reality even afterwards.

I have yet to meet anyone who has changed their opinion on the legality of ICOs as a result of the SEC statements. In this respect professional fund managers are basically no different than redditors, where you show them an SEC statement and they see whatever they want to see in it.

> I have yet to meet anyone who has changed their opinion on the legality of ICOs as a result of the SEC statements

Sure, but there is a difference between “I had a different interpretation of the law when I issued securities” and “I blatantly violated SEC guidance.” The latter is easier to prosecute and litigate.

People are changing their strategy.

As an American I now want to find a foreign country I can relocate to that is safe and has regulatory frameworks that are friendly to this type of new fundraising.

At least the people active in the crypto subreddits know it as well. Caring about it is another thing though.

I posted this article that answers this question and provides some more background info...



Isn't it more likely derived from honeypot

Then they might have called it Honey Coins. That the SEC named it Howey, after a test that determines if something is a security---thus actually under SEC regulation---seems way more likely.

I wouldn't think so, its "Howey" with a 'w' rather than "honey".

> Isn't it more likely derived from honeypot

It's almost certainly derived from the Howey Test.

Pretty great. And complete with a whitepaper that actually makes a seemingly reasonable business argument while ignoring tech.

https://www.investor.gov/howeycoins has the explanation

I think it's hilarious that one of their "celebrity promoters" calls the coin a bubble right on their front page:

> I’m all about HoweyCoins – this thing is going to pop at the top!

Hey now, @boxingchamp1934 has never led me astray before...

I think it’s a jab at Floyd Mayweather.

HoweyCoin is fake, but is it? And, that's how Dogecoin got started.

I met the guy who made DOGE at a conference in Portland and he was hilariously apologetic to everyone about having accidentally made (at the time) one of the most popular coins.

It's still pretty popular, and arguably works better than Bitcoin and had a better community.

there’s a great npr interview with him. apparently he never owned more than $75 worth of doge at today’s value.

I made a genuine small profit mining Dogecoin back in the day. Between that and Litecoin I was able to make my two 400$ HD7970s pay for themselves, even after accounting for electricity.

Edit: Wanted to add that the success (Well, maybe not 'success', but popularity) of Dogecoin should highlight the value of making things accessible. Not everything needs to be a silly meme, but making things fun and building a community can make a huge difference.

My 3 months of mining back in the day (aka heating my apartment with video cards instead of electric heaters) netted me about $4000 a few months ago. I found it hilarious.

All I can say is wow.

Such mine. Much electric bill.

Anyone looking here is the NPR interview https://www.npr.org/2018/02/08/584181886/cryptocurrencies-ar...

Hmm, it seems like this fake ICO will compete with our fake ICO (https://initialcornoffering.com) for the same "investors." I guess we need celebrity endorsements to make the front page of HN though?

They're going want to optimize those 8k res images down at the bottom of the page if they want to actually sell some of those coins.

They're just doing their part to waste energy and bandwidth, in the same vein as a real ICO would.

The real question is, who are those people? They are really smirking hard. I bet they're SEC employees, the images have real first names on them (that don't match their fictitious names) which would seem to indicate they're not just stock photos.

I can imagine the email to the office now. That would be the coolest thing ever... "we need volunteers, must be reasonably photogenic and capable of producing a foreboding smirk...."

Stock photos.

Couldn't find those stock images anywhere else. Some names are unique enough to be mistaken for someone legit.

The site was announced today. The whitepaper was created on 2018-04-11 and the site was registered on 2018-03-08. So they probably spend a few months and 10k's $ on this scam project.

This project only works "PR"-wise, because it is posted on social media. No unsuspecting investor is going to happen upon on this site and change his/her behavior and be "educated". That's a deluded pipe dream by out-of-touch no-coin government employees.

This is 1990's Microsoft level of lame.

ok like regardless of whether or not it educated me i had a pretty good chuckle. they're good memes brent.


is this a sarcastic post or not

they link to the investor's advisory...

That's like putting up a flyer about the danger of knives in a juvenile detention center, paid for with tax money, under the hopelessly naive banner of "re-educating problem youth".

So if ICO frauds are so easy why aren't there more of them> The answer is, promoting an ICO is extremely difficult and expensive. The market is not that big

A lot of them are combination money-laundering schemes and scams. Someone who stole a bunch of shitcoins wants to "clean them up", so they create an ICO and buy their ICO-coins with stolen shitcoins.

By doing this, they also inflate the "market" value of their ICO, which leads to increased popularity and others notice and throw some money in.

It's not clear to me what proportion of ICOs are money-laundering vs. real purchases, but I suspect it is quite high.

Don't forget flight capital from China, Russia, etc.

The capital flight occurs when people buy the Ethereum or Bitcoin which they need to purchase the ICO.

I'd like to hope that the reason is because most people who are smart enough to do so feel morally barred from doing so

I know I was quite tempted to make my own coin a number of times, but I couldn't really see it as anything but stealing.

6.3 billion dollars has been scammed from people so far via ICOs

I just saw and clicked an ad for this ICO and it looks just like Howey Coin's site - https://icerockmining.io/en.html (I don't know whether this is a scam or not, i don't recommend investing or avoiding it, I just wanted to point out how similar the website looks to the howeycoins website! DYOR) (Being overly neutral for its own sake here, but it seems very questionable)

Looks like pure bullshit or utter incompetence. Yeah, your mountain is actually at 12°C, but with 50kW or more of processing power, you're actually creating an oven if you haven't got ventilation or cooling. Stupid

the biggest giveaway is the purported ROI. mining is barely profitable. the returns they promise are a big red flag

These mining ICOs are incredibly scammy. Look at what happened with Envion. 100M raised in ICO which promised huge returns. Now the founders claim the CEO had illegally taken control of the company.

It's all just smoke and mirrors. The reality is that they never had the capabilities to compete in the mining business. But they sure sold a ton of their shit tokens!

My hot take is there's no way that's even remotely legitimate. Justification for projected ROI in FAQ includes "The question - do you believe in Bitcoin or not? In our case, we strongly believe in BTC BTC" and "ROI of 439% per year is easy to explain thanks to 20% monthly reinvestment"

I'm surprised there isn't already a DIY ICO generator on GitHub.

I'll do you own better: https://crapcoin.solutions/

Found it on here a couple days, maybe weeks back.

I know I've seen one before.

iirc there was a script someone made distributed with bitcoin core source which would ask about basic variables and then bam you got a new coin ready to start mining.

With tokens on other coins it just becomes soo easy

I could swear there was an HN post recently to do exactly that.

The SEC has missed the point entirely.

Savvy investors want proof that the ICO organizer is running a scam, and that it has legs. The SEC has merely created a playbook, not a fraud deterrent.

The ICO scam is a genre of investor literature. As such certain obligatory signs and conventions will be present:

- the countdown (made its first big appearance with the Ethereum crowdsale)

- use of the term "blockchain technology" in the opening paragraph

- combining "blockchain technology" with a secondary domain (e.g. Travel)

- the more non-obvious the match between "blockchain technology" and the secondary domain, the better

- focus on benefits, not features

- describe a problem everyone recognizes (travel is expensive)

- state the size of the market for solutions ($1.5 trillion)

- management team headshots

- appeal to authority/celebrity

- ROI forecast

- a whitepaper that carefully avoids revealing how the token fulfills the promises made in the marketing material

Ticking all the boxes lets the ICO operator reassure the prospective investor that all steps have been taken to ensure future buyers of the token.

Think of it as proof-of-future-bagholder (PoFB). A rinky-dink ICO that can't bring itself to lay the fertilizer sufficiently high will be in no position to keep investors coming in after the crowdsale ends.

I think the site is supposed to be more of a PSA for non-savvy investors rather than a fraud deterrent.

savvy investors wouldn't touch an ICO with a ten foot pole...

>Savvy investors want proof that the ICO organizer is running a scam, and that it has legs.

Savvy investors are likely not what this is targeting; they're generally savvy enough to skip terrible offerings. Those that were thinking of mortgaging their house to buy BTC when it was up late last year are.

So, I think what the SEC is doing, is forcing me to actually create HoweyCoins...

FYI: At Bits & Blocks Press I've also put together educational booklets to alert invstors. See Best of Bitcoin Maximalist - Scammers, Morons, Clowns, Shills & BagHODLers - Inside The New New Crypto Ponzi Economics [1] or Crypto Facts - Decentralize Payments - Efficient, Low Cost, Fair, Clean - True or False? [2] or Get Rich Quick "Business Blockchain" Bible - The Secrets of Free Easy Money [3]

[1]: https://bitsblocks.github.io/bitcoin-maximalist [2]: https://bitsblocks.github.io/crypto-facts [3]: https://bitsblocks.github.io/get-rich-quick-bible

Don't make pages like this.

Just go after existing ICOs. Arrest people, prosecute people, go after people.

If it's China or whatever, collaborate with China. Chinese citizens are scammed as much as US ones.

Just arrest all the ICO scammers. Arrest the ERC token pumpers, arrest the exchanges.

The effort it takes to make a site like this is a tiny fraction of that involved in "going after" dozens of dodgy ICOs.

Making this site couldn't possibly have impeded them in that task in any way that isn't grossly outweighed by the public good of its educational value.


It's a nice idea, but the meat of the site (https://www.investor.gov/howeycoins) is far too complicated for an ICO investor to read and understand.

If that's the case, then perhaps they shouldn't be investing in ICOs?

yeah, that's what they want to achieve

Disagree, the "Red Flags" sections are very simplified and prominent, and there are additional resources that follow for more sophisticated consumers. Unless you're taking a strongly sardonic swipe at ICO investors...

Very similar concept as the scam Bitair (and many others of course) - https://bitair.io/

Fake ICOs are a great way to teach people about financial scams, including the one's run by the existing central banking system:


Related: PonzICO https://ponzico.win/

Also related: PonziCoin: https://ponzicoin.co/home.html

This wasn't that great; no ICO accepts credit card purchases because that would imply buyer protections

They explain this as a red flag on the SEC page. https://www.investor.gov/howeycoins

> Investors should understand that most licensed and registered investment firms do not allow their customers to use credit cards to buy investments or to fund an investment account. We urge investors to work only with a licensed or registered investment professional or firm and not attempt to use a credit card to fund investments.

We already did something similar - http://securitiesandexchangecoin.tech/! SECS token - the first attempt by the government to bring blockchains to regulation!

The problem (of overvaluations) is that there aren't enough ICOs. When there's more of them inflation will naturally devalue the scammiest of them. The best days for (scam-)ICOs are already over.

I'm curious that they used Hover as a domain registrar, and Heroku to host the site. I have to wonder how much hell someone had to go through to get those two as approved vendors.

Having worked in government in the past, I wouldn't be surprised at all if Heroku and Hover aren't approved vendors. Somebody is probably just paying for it out of pocket. Not worth the bureaucratic headache to get them to pay for $20 worth of stuff.

Downloaded the whitepaper hoping it would involve oranges. It didn't - still awesome!

Andddd... crashed. Hope this comes back soon -- curious to see it!

Still timing out at 1:05 PM PDT. I guess they weren't ready for the HN front page treatment...

40mb per user session.. that could add up.

> Investors can purchase HoweyCoins with any major credit card

Either this is a major fraud risk, or this isn't really a cryptocurrency. Is the HoweyCoin ledger reversible and centralized?

EDIT: derp, it's a joke

Now we just need one for pyramid schemes.

Much wow only 2.7 mins to load at 38.2MB transfer. Feel sorry for whoever paying for bandwidth

It's a .gov, so US taxpayers are paying for the bandwidth.

This is a joke right?

Yes - the SEC (government agency that regulates securities) is behind it. It's supposed to teach people a lesson.

I feel confused.

We anticipate returns of 1% a day? How can you try and anticipate the price of a cryptocurrency. Any investor who knows what they're doing turned around and ran away when they read that line.

> Any investor who knows what they're doing

But they're not the intended audience, right?


To be fair to many ICOs they don't make most of these claims. They are cherry picking the worst of the worst and presenting a straw man. I agree the crypto currency space is messed up but I think this could be done better.

The SEC holds ICO tokens to be securities; every ICO selling (wittingly or unwittingly, directly or indirectly) to un-accredited American investors is thus acting unlawfully. That describes every ICO I’ve heard of save like two (Filecoin and Telegram).

> To be fair to many ICOs they don't make most of these claims.

"Many" == 99%. There are no non-scam ICO's.... even the ones that aren't intentionally run as scams are, ultimately, scams.

ICO's don't invest in a company, they "invest" in a brand new "currency" that somehow magically reflects the value of the "company" that created them. Why anybody would buy into this is beyond me...

There are security token ICOs which are not utility token ICOs.

> There are security token ICOs which are not utility token ICOs.

Ah so securities fraud instead of just plan vanilla fraud?

It depends on jurisdiction, but yes, as I understand unregistered security offering is illegal in US.

It’s illegal in every country with a developed system of securities law for a good reason.

All ICO’s are scams. Period.

The worst of the worst are still exceptionally common though. It is by no means the exclusion.

How many ICOs actually claim to be backed by the US government? Tether and some others claimed at one time to be redeemable for USD. Also, FWIW I'm not condoning or supporting Tether.

Claiming to be redeemable isn't claiming to be backed by the US government. (USD is backed by the US government, but “redeemable FOR USD” isn't “USD”.)

I agree, Tether is simply the closest I have found to the joke claim on the SEC website, so I really don't know where they are getting that one from.

What's wrong with cherry picking the worst? Maybe they are targeting the most gullible for education?

Strange analogy, but I feel it's like using Alex Jones to discredit anyone with conservative or anti-establishment views.

It's trying to discredit scams. Are you against discrediting scams?

But what about all of the legitimate scams that get caught up in the crossfire. >:(

Good point.

I don't see them discrediting any legit projects here, though.

You guys are right, I think I done goofed

This websites was obviously created for the gullible who generally speaking, never know that they are gullible until it's too late.

Consider this "defense in depth" against fraud.

It is entertaining though. They chose some pretty funny stock photos.

I agree it's entertaining.

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