The crypto world is reported to be worth over $3 trillion with over 300 million people worldwide owning some form of crypto.
But as our cryptocurrency and NFT heist trackers have found, crypto is a lucrative business for hackers.
These trackers don’t account for insider jobs and scams (e.g. Ponzi schemes), however. That’s why we’ve created this separate tracker which monitors when the biggest rug pulls and scams have taken place, how much has been lost to these schemes, and the 10 biggest crypto and NFT rug pulls and scams to date.
Our findings suggest a whopping $26 billion and counting has been lost to cryptocurrency and NFT rug pulls and scams to date.
Please note: Rug pulls cover both newly founded crypto tokens or NFTs whereby the founders pull out before the project is fully built as well as exit scams from longer-running and more established projects. Scams cover Ponzi schemes, honeypots, impersonations of other coins, and so on.
In some cases, token/symbol names have the same/similar names as others, so shouldn’t be confused with these.
The biggest crypto rug pulls and scams of all time
Below are the biggest crypto rug pulls and scams (based on the USD amount stolen at the time of the attack) to date:
- OneCoin – $4 billion stolen: This Ponzi scheme began in 2014 and lured investors in by promising high return rates with little or no risk. At its height, OneCoin is thought to have had more than 3 million members from across the globe, raking in from $4 billion to $19 billion. And to date, it is also the most “successful” crypto scam as the search continues for the so-called “Cryptoqueen,” Ruja Ignatova, who is said to have been behind the scheme. In July 2022, Ignatova was added to the FBI’s ‘Ten Most Wanted Fugitive List.’
- Africrypt – $3.6 billion stolen: In April 2021, the BTC pool of Africrypt, which was valued at $3.6 billion, disappeared. The two founders (brothers Raees and Ameer Cajee) said the platform had been attacked and all of the funds drained. However, a week before the said attack, Africrypt employees found themselves unable to access the back-end of the platform. While the two brothers denied any involvement in the attack, they did disappear a month later. It is said that they have now settled in the UK with their families and continue to deny any involvement, suggesting they fled in fear of their lives. They also said the maximum sum they traded was $200 million and the amount lost was $5 million not $3.6 billion.
- GainBitcoin – $3 billion stolen: In India’s biggest crypto scam, from 385,000 to 600,000 bitcoins are said to have been collected. Our $3 billion figure is based on the lower estimate (at the time of the theft–March 2018), but the top estimate extends as far as $4.7 billion. The scheme reportedly offered investors monthly returns of 10 percent on bitcoin-on-bitcoin investments. In March 2018, two directors of the company (Amit Bhardwaj and Ajay Bhardwaj) were arrested. Amit died in January 2022 but the case against Ajay remains ongoing, with estimates of the monetary amounts involved continuing to escalate.
- BitConnect – $2 billion stolen: In the BitConnect fraud scheme which ran up until August 2021, investors were defrauded of $2.4 billion. BitConnect’s founders touted the platform’s technology as being able to guarantee returns and generate substantial gains by trading in the volatile crypto market. However, it was all an elaborate Ponzi scheme and in February 2022, the founder, Satish Kumbhani, was indicted.
- PlusToken – $2.25 billion stolen: From 2018 to 2019 investors were defrauded of 14.8 billion yuan (US$2.25 billion) in the PlusToken crypto Ponzi scam. Millions fell for the scam whereby they paid a membership fee under the promise they would be offered high investment returns. In 2020, the ringleaders were jailed for up to 11 years.
- Wirecard – $2.1 billion stolen: In June 2020, Wirecard, a card issuer that supported crypto payments, issued a statement that said $2.1 billion in cash had gone missing. They pointed the finger at a third party’s “spurious” cash balances but three key men behind the company, including former chief executive Markus Braun, were charged with embezzlement, market manipulation, and gang fraud in March 2022.
- Thodex – $2 billion stolen: In this exit scam in April 2021, Thodex was said to be “temporarily closed” before the founder shut down the platform entirely and ran off with $2 billion of investors’ funds. The founder, Faruk Fatih Ozer, denied it was an exit scam but is still on the run. If caught, many want to see him serving a prison sentence of 40,000 years! Some estimates suggest that as much as $2.6 billion could have been stolen.
- WoToken – $1.1 billion stolen: Over 715,000 victims were impacted by this $1.1 billion scam. In this Ponzi scheme, investors were told exceptional returns would be generated by the platform’s algorithmic trading bots–but, as is the case with most of these schemes, the tech simply didn’t exist. Today, the stolen tokens (46,000 BTC, 2 million ETH, 292,000 LTC, 56,000 BCH, and 684,000 EOS) would be worth over $5 billion. Six defendants were trialed over the Ponzi scheme and each pleaded guilty and received recommended jail times of 6 months to 11 years (a far cry from the suggested sentence for Thodex’s founder).
- Arbistar – $1 billion stolen: Spanish police arrested the leader of this billion-dollar crypto scam in October 2020. The Ponzi scheme (run by parent company Arbicorp) duped around 120,000 users and raised more than $1 billion in bitcoin.
- BitClub Network – $722 million stolen: This cryptocurrency mining scheme ran from April 2014 to December 2019 and accumulated at least $722 million in funds. Investors were told they’d receive shares in the crypto mining pools while also being rewarded for introducing new investors to the scheme. In September 2020, a Californian man, Joseph Frank Abel, pled guilty to selling unregistered securities and to filing a false tax return.
Revision – 09/05/22: The amount lost to scams was incorrectly noted as $25 trillion in the introduction and was amended to the correct figure of $25 billion.
To collate this list of the world’s biggest crypto scams and rug pulls, we’ve searched through industry news, court filings, and security analysts’ reports.
We have only focused on clear scams or rug pulls on crypto or NFT platforms. Money laundering scams have not been included, nor have phishing scams that replicate legitimate company websites and so on.
The date of the scam is when it is first notified as a scam.
For a full list of sources, please request access here.