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Investors have sent $1 billion into digital coin projects that flash warning signs for fraud, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday, citing its own analysis.
In a review of 1,450 digital coin offerings, the Journal said it found that 271 bore red flags such as plagiarized documents or fake executive information. Investors have already claimed losses of up to $273 million in these projects, the newspaper said, according to lawsuits and regulatory actions.
The coin sales, or "initial coin offerings," give investors the chance to buy into a new digital token while letting developers get easy access to funding. The process may be a little too easy for many projects that are unproven or outright scams. Coin offerings have raised roughly $9.8 billion in the two years through mid-March, according to financial research firm Autonomous Next.
The Journal found widespread plagiarism in 111 projects' online whitepapers, including word-for-word copies of marketing plans and technical features. The demand is so high that freelancers will write the papers for $100 or more, the report said.
Lifting images and names to create the appearance of a reputable development team is also not uncommon.
One Polish banker named Jenish Mirani found that his profile picture was used by online payment project Denaro to portray its co-founder "Jeremy Boker," the Journal said. The paper said no one responded to its attempts to reach the company.
Many initial coin offerings officially prohibit U.S. citizens and residents from participating, out of fear of regulatory crackdown.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has frozen assets and charged founders with fraud in several cases of cryptocurrency scams. On Wednesday, the SEC also launched a website called "HoweyCoins.com" to show investors what a fraudulent coin offering might look like online.