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What is a crypto rug pull?

We took a look at 5 of the biggest rug pulls in history to help you avoid getting "rugged"

While the crypto space attracts some incredibly bright minds, it also attracts more than its fair share of fraudsters.

And one of the scams that these fraudsters love to run is the notorious “rug pull.”

Read on to learn more about what crypto rug pulls are and how you can take steps to avoid getting “rugged” – colloquial speak for being the victim of a crypto rug pull.

Disclaimer: This page is not financial advice or an endorsement of digital assets, providers or services. Digital assets are volatile and risky, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. Potential regulations or policies can affect their availability and services provided. Talk with a financial professional before making a decision. Finder or the author may own cryptocurrency discussed on this page.

What is a crypto rug pull?

Crypto rug pulls come in many forms.

Sometimes they come in the form of a ponzi scheme, when a charismatic crypto project manager convinces investors to buy into a crypto token or platform and then absconds with the funds.

Sometimes the head of a crypto exchange claims an exchange has been hacked before making off with the assets stored on the exchange wallets.

Sometimes crypto rug pulls happen in the decentralized finance (DeFi) space.

Often new tokens are listed on decentralized exchanges (DEX) like Uniswap or PancakeSwap. Malicious developers can sell their new tokens on DEXs without permission from a centralized source.

On the DEX, the creator of the new token can pair it with a bigger, more well-known cryptocurrency like Ether (ETH) or Binance Coin (BNB).

After doing so, the developer can create hype around the coin via social media, which often gets investors to FOMO buy the coin. Quickly, the coin’s price becomes inflated, and then the developer sells their share – which can be upwards of 90% of the total supply of the coin.

To add more nuance to how these rug pulls occur, we’ll discuss the three main ways developers carry out these underhanded schemes.

Three kinds of rug pulls in DeFi

The three main types of rug pulls that occur in DeFi are as follows: liquidity theft, limiting selling orders, and dumping.

A combination of the following can also occur in tandem.

1. Liquidity theft

This occurs when developers are able to withdraw investors’ funds from the liquidity pool – the pool that contains the new asset and another more established asset like ETH or BNB.

The liquidity pool is held in a smart contract, and a malicious developer can program a “back door” into a smart contract to extract investors’ funds. Once the funds have been extracted, the developer can sell them.

2. Limiting selling orders

This occurs when a fraudulent developer programs a smart contract so that only they can sell the token they’ve developed and brought to market.

In other words, investors can’t cash in when the price of this new token pumps. Only the developer can.

3. Dumping

This occurs when the developer sells off their share of this new token – which tends to be over 50% of the total supply of the token – once its price pumps.

This is sometimes referred to as a “pump and dump” scheme.

5 major crypto rug pulls

1. OneCoin – Over $4 billion

In 2016, OneCoin project head Ruja Ignatov – AKA the “Cryptoqueen” – announced OneCoin as a “Bitcoin killer.”

Investment for OneCoin came in from around the world, yet Ignatov and her team never even created a blockchain for the coin, and the coin never actually traded.

After handing control of OneCoin over to her brother – who pleaded guilty to fraud charges – in 2017, Ignatov vanished and has yet to be found.


2. Thodex – Over $2 billion

In April 2021, the CEO of Turkish crypto exchange Thodex, Faruk Fatih ​​Özer, declared that users’ funds were safe after the exchange experienced a cyber attack.

But the funds weren’t safe. Özer fled to Turkey with over $2 billion in investors’ assets.


3. AnubisDAO – $60 million

AnubisDAO was a fork of OlympusDAO, a cryptocurrency backed by bond sales and liquidity provider fees.

In 2021, approximately $60 million was invested in the initial coin offering (ICO) for AnubisDAO.

20 hours into the sales of the AnubisDAO tokens – ANKH – all of the liquidity for the tokens was moved to a new wallet, and investors never saw their money again.


4. Meerkat Finance – $31 million

On March 3, 2021, developers launched Meerkat Finance on Binance Smart Chain.

One day after the launch, the developers announced that hackers had stolen the $31 million that had been invested.

Most victims of this rug pull believe it was the developers who drained the funds and not hackers.


5.Iron Finance – Over $2 billion

On June 16, 2021, the market cap of TITAN – one of the two assets in the Iron Finance ecosystem – dropped from just over $2 billion to $10 million.

TITAN was meant to be used as collateral when minting IRON. When IRON lost its peg, TITAN’s price crashed. We didn’t put this crypto blow up closer to the top of our list because some call what transpired here more of a bank run than a rug pull.

Whatever it was, this event is well known because famed investor Mark Cuban was an investor in Iron Finance. While he never disclosed how much he lost, he did say it was enough to “cause some frustration.”

How to spot a rug pull

If you are worried that a crypto project may be prone to a rug pull, consider the following items before investing:

  • The developer is anonymous

Most new DeFi projects on major blockchains like Ethereum, Binance Smart Chain or Solana are created and brought to market by well-known developers and executives.

If a developer for a hot new token chooses to remain anonymous, it may be because they are trying to avoid legal consequences for their deceitful tactics.

  • The developer doesn’t have a history in the space

Crypto developers like Gavin Wood – creator of the Polkadot (DOT) ecosystem and early coder for Ethereum – or Andre Cronje – founder of Yearn.Finance and developer in the Fantom (FTM) ecosystem – have an extensive history in the crypto space.

Not all developers in the space have to have credentials as robust as those of Wood and Cronje, but if a developer doesn’t have much history in the space, you’re right to be wary of their intentions.

  • Liquidity issues

If a new crypto token has a very low market cap, keep in mind that selling the token for cash may be very difficult.

A good indicator of a crypto’s liquidity is its 24-hour trading volume. Scam coins can trade in the low tens of thousands of US dollars.

You can check both a coin’s market cap and its 24-hour trading volume at CoinGecko.

  • Skyrocketing price with few wallet addresses

If the price of a new token with a low market cap has quickly “gone to the moon” – crypto speak for rose rapidly – chances are it will come back down just as quickly.

Also, it’s important to know how many different wallets exist on the blockchain for the coin in which you’d like to invest. You can find this information using a block explorer (e.g., Etherscan), but you also use auditing services like CertiK that will tell you how centralized – or how many tokens are stored in how many wallets – a project is.

  • Suspiciously high yields

If a project is offering unreasonably high staking or yield farming rates, it may be a scam.

Usually, malicious developers may offer high rates via DeFi services as a means to lure their rug pull victims in.

Steps you can take to protect yourself from rug pulls

Take the following steps to avoid getting rugged:

Buy established tokens

If you are new to the space, it may be best to dip your toes by buying some Bitcoin (BTC) or Ether (ETH). The coins are more established and have larger market caps. This means that they are less volatile than cryptos that have just come to market.

Buy from established exchanges

If you are buying a coin that isn’t listed on top exchanges like Coinbase, Kraken, or Binance.US, consider the fact that you may be buying a very risky asset.

Exchanges like the ones listed have certain criteria that coins or tokens listed on their sites must meet. In other words, these exchanges do their due diligence in evaluating tokens before listing them for sale.

Check to see if a project is audited

Consider checking the rating for a coin or token with auditing platforms like CertiK or Hacken before jumping into a risky trade.

These platforms give ratings to the quality of smart contracts and exchanges to help give you a heads up when something may be fishy.

Don’t bet too much on high-risk projects

If you do decide to roll the dice on investing in a high-risk project, you might not want to bet too much. As a rule of thumb, it’s never a good idea to invest more than you are okay to lose. The more risky the bet you take, the more this rule holds true.

FTX rug pull

If you had your funds on a cryptocurrency exchange (e.g. Binance, Crypto.com) have you moved all or the bulk of them off?

Response% of crypto investors
Yes, most or all to a software wallet30%
Yes, most or all to a hardware wallet27%
No, but I plan to move my funds to a more secure place17%
No, I didn't have any of my funds on an exchange16%
No I have funds on an exchange and I have no plans to move them10%
Source: Finder survey by Qualtrics of 2,023 Americans

The ripple effect of the FTX collapse is far reaching with 33% of those who’ve owned crypto syaing they exited the market following the collapse. A further 31% say that while they still own crypto, they no longer actively trade.

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Bottom line

The crypto space is exciting and adrenaline-inducing. This is why it’s all the more important to take a deep breath before buying into the latest hyped-up token.

It’s important to step back and do some research before buying a hot new coin, because if you act too hastily, you may end up the victim of a crypto rug pull.

Disclaimer: Cryptocurrencies are speculative, complex and involve significant risks – they are highly volatile and sensitive to secondary activity. Performance is unpredictable and past performance is no guarantee of future performance. Consider your own circumstances, and obtain your own advice, before relying on this information. You should also verify the nature of any product or service (including its legal status and relevant regulatory requirements) and consult the relevant Regulators' websites before making any decision. Finder, or the author, may have holdings in the cryptocurrencies discussed.

Whether products shown are available to you is subject to individual provider sole approval and discretion in accordance with the eligibility criteria and T&Cs on the provider website.

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