It is no secret “buyer beware” is now a mantra in the realm of ICOs, where blockchain startups are increasing millions, sometimes with only a white paper, a bright idea and a couple lines of code.
Indeed, The Wall Street Journal recently discovered that 271 of 1,450 ICOs it examined displayed “red flags that include plagiarized investor documents, promises of guaranteed returns and missing or fake executive teams.”
However, with regular Joes turning to crypto millionaires, however infrequently, they are enticing stakes for investors.
Expanding on the WSJ’s analysis, CoinDesk wished to make it clear what type of approaches fraudulent ICOs take, and there might be no better poster-child compared to Pink Taxi Coin and its PTT crypto token, lately promoted on Twitter by John McAfee, an entrepreneur who made his name selling applications but has recently pivoted into crypto.
A McAfee endorsement has undoubtedly become a worrisome indication for token investors, but there is more to Pink Taxi Coin than simply a poor endorsement.
Paul Walsh, CEO of MetaCert, which recently launched a browser extension to warn users when they see a cryptocurrency phishing or scam website, told CoinDesk:-LRB-**************************************)
“There are certainly enough red flags surrounding this ICO warranting a warning to potential investors, starting with the reports of plagiarism.”
Jump To Section
CoinDesk first heard about Pink Taxi Coin from Lithuania-based ride-hailing program A2B Taxi (which has an ICO underway).
According to the A2B Taxi spokesperson, Pink Taxi Coin had plagiarized essentially everything from A2B Taxi — “website design, content materials, texts, even our advisor’s video explaining our token model.”
Sure enough, when CoinDesk seen Pink Taxi Coin’s unique site (archived version) — besides the name change and a change from a green motif to a pink one — the whole page was apparently copied and pasted from A2B Taxi’s website. The text, formatting and a lot of the artwork were indistinguishable.
Could be a coincidence. Screen shots courtesy A2B Taxi.
The Pink Taxi white paper (archived version), from disclaimer into the appendix, was also equal to A2B Taxi’s, although excessive use of a thesaurus had made that hard to demonstrate through a easy control-F search. For example, the statement “the payments on A2B Taxi app will be completed using cryptocurrency” was altered within the Pink Taxi Coin white paper to “the payments on PINK Taxi application will be finished utilizing cryptocurrency.”
On the whole, these changes made the paper hard to parse, or even entirely meaningless.
“I would not tell that plagiarism is something unseen or new to the ICO market,” A2B Taxi’s blockchain adviser Vytautas Kaseta told CoinDesk, including:-LRB-**************************************)
“But I think this case is just another pure scam. Everything was just copy-pasted.”
Another red flag: in which Pink Taxi Coin’s content was first, it was extremely poorly written.
On Telegram, by way of instance, the company wrote, “Great news.. Jhon Mcafee join PinkTaxiCoin as an advisor…” Plus the heading of a single page on its website is “Get Yourself Register” — the instructions for depositing ether are written in clear, idiomatic English.
The overall inability to create decent English copy anywhere except when it came to the instructions for sending the business money is questionable, particularly for a project that claims to be based in the united kingdom.
Pink Taxi Coin was captured in the act of plagiarizing A2B Taxi — actually, the A2B Taxi group called them out on Twitter.
After that, Pink Taxi Coin issued a announcement (through McAfee, in a tweet that’s since been deleted) expressing “sincere apologies to all the parties harmed by this activity.”
The announcement clarified that Pink Taxi Group Ltd.. U.K. had hired an unnamed “third-party agency” to create its website and marketing materials, and that this agency was the one to blame for the plagiarism. It went further, stating that Pink Taxi Group has “launched legal notice to the agency” and, of course, fired it.
As a result, Pink Taxi Coin took its white paper down, replacing it with a guarantee to print a new one soon, and the homepage has been altered to look less like A2B Taxi’s.
However, Walsh does not buy that, mainly because it seems the company is at it again.
He advised CoinDesk:-LRB-**************************************)
“Despite the announcement from Pink Taxi about this error, our team also determined that their website still contains plagiarism.”
After the apology, Walsh continued, Pink Taxi Coin’s prototype page continued to use pictures of another ride-hailing program, Lyft, only stripping the Lyft branding off. That page wasn’t archived and is no longer accessible.
Separately, CoinDesk also discovered that text on the upgraded Pink Taxi Coin website about “women economic empowerment” is plagiarized from a European Parliament report.
Where is the team?
What was quite different between A2B Taxi and Pink Taxi Coin’s website and white newspaper was Pink Taxi Coin’s lack of a legitimate group, another significant red flag for investors looking at which ICO jobs to put money into.
Where A2B Taxi’s website recorded a team such as the creator, programmers, designers and consultants, Pink Taxi Coin’s page recorded an “advisory team” of three: John McAfee, his wife Janice McAfee and Sherri (just Sherri). And Pink Taxi Coin’s white paper left out the “team” section — within A2B Taxi’s original — completely.
there’s no indication anywhere in Pink Taxi Coin’s stuff about who’s building the product. The founder’s name isn’t available, nor are the titles of any programmers or other employees.
The Pink Taxi Coin team, like it is. Screenshot by CoinDesk.
And this led Kaseta to remark that Pink Taxi Coin has “no real people behind [the] project.”
CoinDesk sent emails requesting information about the group to Pink Taxi Coin’s service address several times, finally getting this answer: “Your request have been forward to the concerned department.”
And mirroring the experience on the site, when CoinDesk asked about how to deposit ether, we obtained a comprehensive answer almost instantly.
The statement apologizing for Pink Taxi Coin’s plagiarism insisted that skeptics could search online to confirm that the business exists. Yet the business fails to adhere to a consistent title during the one-page record: “Pink Taxi Group Ltd. U.K.,” in the very best, becomes “Team, Pink Taxi Ltd.” from the signature.
Based on Pink Taxi Coin, “Our authenticity speaks for itself.”
As mentioned before, an endorsement from McAfee is not looked at with pride by many in the cryptocurrency area today.
And there is good reason. Soon after tweeting about his support of the Pink Taxi Coin job — and make seemingly untrue statements regarding the business, by way of instance, it now works in 50 cities — McAfee disclosed he’d charged $500,000 for the tweet.
Additionally, when A2B Taxi’s art director Tomas Stasiulevicius requested McAfee why he was encouraging a job that “bluntly steals” others’ work, McAfee reacted with what Kaseta called “threatening posts.”
“You are a scammer my friend,” McAfee told Stasiulevicius, including, “I strongly suggest you drop this, unless you would like my FULL attention?”
That said, it is not only McAfee who should raise alarm bells when exploring ICOs.
After a spate of actors started endorsing various ICO projects, the SEC sent out a warning to investors about these sorts of endorsements, going so far as to state that the actors could be running afoul of “anti-touting” laws if they do not say what compensation they received.
Not only that, but several of these celebrity-endorsed crypto token jobs have faced legal sanction — for example, the founders of Centra, a job that boxer Floyd Mayweather endorsed, face federal fraud charges. Another ICO, Bitcoiin, that was endorsed by actor Steven Segal, obtained cease-and-desist orders from the state of New Jersey.
Another way Pink Taxi Coin strove to cultivate an aura of legitimacy is by introducing articles from reputable news outlets as though they were speaking to the group behind Pink Taxi Coin itself.
“It is extremely convenient for them,” Walsh stated, “that there are existing videos and articles talking about the Pink Taxi concept, which they gladly link to on their homepage, as it helps prop up this company’s alleged legitimacy in the eyes of would-be investors.”
“Extremely convenient” videos. Screenshot by CoinDesk.
These substances exist since pink taxis — that appeal only to women and employ only women drivers — are a legitimate, functioning business model in several cities across the world. Indeed, the concept has proven popular in towns in which the rates of sexual assault are large, including many cities in Muslim-majority nations, as well as in Latin America and Britain.
Pink taxis are a just that, though: a concept, not a company. And Pink Taxi Coin is apparently trying to exploit possible confusion about that truth.
All the articles listed on Pink Taxi Coin’s website is talking about a separate thing: there is a BBC article about a British firm named Pink Ladies, an Al Jazeera post about a Pakistani firm named Paxi, a Khaleej Times article about an Emirati firm named Dubai Taxi Corp., a Hype post about a Malaysian firm named Riding Pink, a Wall Street Journal article about a Indian company named Meru Cab, and a CNN article about an Egyptian company named Pink Taxi.
CoinDesk reached these firms, and while most didn’t react before press time, a Riding Pink representative stated:-LRB-**************************************)
“This is a blatant misuse of our brand name and we are not in any way affiliated with Pink Taxi Ltd UK.”
Yet, if this was not enough, there is a Moderate post by a Kyle Jones — his only post — encouraging the firm: “you can’t afford to miss this ICO,” the headline blares.
We dug to the writer, and it turns out there’s no Kyle Jones. The picture used on Moderate is of a school professor who’s not called Kyle Jones, didn’t write the Moderate post and isn’t — he advised CoinDesk — whatsoever associated with Pink Taxi Coin.
Here is your chance
Last, but not least, although the costs of particular cryptocurrencies have skyrocketed because they were first introduced (believe bitcoin and ethereum), promises of meteoric gain from the ICO exemptions are normally a bad signal.
For example, on Pink Taxi Coin’s Telegram station — whose 1,600 subscribers aren’t permitted to post — the ICO issuer promised investors outsized profits, comparing it to bitcoin directly.
“You didn’t invest in Bitcoin in 2009. Here’s your second chance!” the article stated, including: “You want the rich lavish lifestyle? Put your money where your mouth is!”
It went on, telling investors it to purchase before others caught on and to adopt the risk.
If the message wasn’t clear enough, a subsequent article said, “Soon PTT will be trading at 5 $.”
Especially, the $5 price target was lowered in alterations to the Pink Taxi Coin site. It’s $1 at the time of writing.
This sort of marketing, playing to cryptocurrency fans’ (and the broader world’s) fear of missing out (FOMO), is such a difficulty that the SEC has repeatedly cautioned investors about such advertisements. The agent even went so far as to make a parody website to educate investors about what to look for when deciding whether an ICO investment is legitimate or fraudulent.
Echoing the SEC here, CoinDesk want to remind you to take a deep breath and do a little research before throwing your life savings (as well as the shift you discovered on the ground now ) in an ICO. Oftentimes, such as Pink Taxi Coin, the red flags are not tough to spot.
(function(d, s, id)
var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s);
if (d.getElementById(id)) return;
js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id;
js.src = “//connect.facebook.net/en_US/sdk.js#xfbml=1&version=v2.9&appId=132053677210113”;