Caveat emptor

The hot new trend in digital currency: pump and dump

“Penny cryptos” are the latest scam to prey on those with Bitcoin FOMO.

Caveat emptor

A penny for your altcoin

Ads for “penny cryptos” are popping up around the web as Bitcoin’s price has skyrocketed.
However, these unregulated currencies are very high-risk with a very low chance of reward.
Penny cryptos are a lot like penny stocks, which are risky investments vulnerable to manipulation.
Caveat emptor

The hot new trend in digital currency: pump and dump

“Penny cryptos” are the latest scam to prey on those with Bitcoin FOMO.

An advertisement by Palm Beach Research Group, a self-styled “financial advisory,” describes a seemingly incredible opportunity: Instead of investing in Bitcoin, which is currently worth approximately 16 times its value at the beginning of the year, it recommends that would-be speculators buy “penny cryptos” — the unknown Bitcoin competitors which, though they’re presently worth next to nothing, could shoot up in value, according to the ad.”

“Every week hundreds of these penny cryptos are doubling in value, and many of them are shooting up 1,000% or more,” it reads. “But they are hard to find, and not always easy to trade. That’s why Teeka Tiwari, widely regarded as one of the world’s preeminent crypto trading experts, is making his next 4 ‘penny crypto’ targets available to the public.”

The ad encourages prospective investors to hand over their email address in order to subscribe to the Palm Beach Daily newsletter and get access to the hottest new cryptocurrency investment opportunities — recommendations ostensibly informed by research into bold new blockchain concepts, but that could just as easily fall into the graveyard of failed Bitcoin knockoffs known as altcoins.

Another dubious claim pushed by penny crypto promoters is that Bitcoin, which is hovering around $16,000 apiece, has become too expensive for small-time buyers. In reality, most exchanges let you buy tiny fractions of a Bitcoin.

To the financially savvy, there are warning signs everywhere.

Everything about penny cryptos down to the name evokes the concept of penny stocks, the high-risk, low-value investments that Leonardo DiCaprio makes a fortune pushing in the beginning of The Wolf of Wall Street. Penny stocks are securities priced under $5 and not traded on a national exchange, which attracts less sophisticated investors and creates opportunity for price manipulation. Penny stocks are vulnerable to pump and dump schemes, in which stock promoters push the price up and then sell their holdings, leaving regular traders holding the bag. Penny cryptos seem similar, except without the oversight of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).

To the financially savvy, there are warning signs everywhere. Palm Beach Research Group — “we guide you along the path to real, sustained financial prosperity” — has abysmal reviews. And if someone has actually identified the next hot altcoin, they’d presumably invest in it themselves instead of trying to herd strangers into the opportunity.

Securities and Exchange Commission chair Jay Clayton expressed horror this week at the concept of people investing in cryptocurrencies, citing the risks of hacking and high pressure sales tactics.

“If a promoter guarantees returns, if an opportunity sounds too good to be true, or if you are pressured to act quickly, please exercise extreme caution and be aware of the risk that your investment may be lost,” he said.

But the angst that boosters of penny crypto taps into is real. People who passed on Bitcoin and then saw its price skyrocket can be afraid of missing out on the next opportunity. They flock to subreddits where they debate the merits of mining or buying the latest altcoins.

Maybe some of them will choose wisely and ride a price spike to fame and fortune, but most probably won’t.

And they’re missing at least one potential fan. Jordan Belfort, who wrote the memoir that DiCaprio’s Wolf of Wall Street is based on — which, among other things, details “pump and dump” schemes — recently called Bitcoin a “fraud.”

“I personally, myself, would be very, very careful about investing a lot of money in something that could vanish very quickly,” he told The Street.

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