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Investors who are knowledgeable about investment opportunities often seek out promising projects in their early stages. Investing early can yield significant returns, but jumping into a project without proper research can lead to financial ruin.
In the crypto industry, where new projects constantly emerge and generate hype, this appetite for high-risk, high-reward investments is especially prevalent. However, unlike regulated financial markets, the crypto ecosystem is still evolving, and unscrupulous actors frequently deceive unsuspecting investors.
One typical crypto scam is called a "rug pull," in which a developer or creator promotes a project like a new coin or NFT release and then absconds with the funds invested by others.
A rug pull in the crypto industry refers to the sudden abandonment of a project by its development team, who sell or remove all its liquidity. The term is derived from the phrase "to pull the rug out from under (someone)", which means to withdraw support unexpectedly.
Rug pulls are often associated with Decentralized Finance (DeFi) projects that provide liquidity to Decentralized Exchanges (DEXs). Since DeFi tokens of new projects are usually not listed on Centralized Exchanges (CEXs), DEXs are the sole source of liquidity. Typically, a DeFi project creates its token and provides liquidity to a DEX, which can be put into a liquidity pool paired with another established token, or sold in an Initial DEX Offering (IDO). In an IDO, investors purchase the coin, and the proceeds are usually locked for a certain period to guarantee liquidity.
Once the hype around the project reaches a peak, and the project has access to its liquidity, the rug pullers have two options. They can either sell their tokens at a high price and remove all liquidity or even use back doors in smart contracts to steal investors' funds. Without sufficient liquidity, investors may struggle to sell their tokens or may be forced to sell them at a low price due to the Automated Market Maker (AMM) pricing mechanism.
Rug pulls are common in DeFi since tokens can be created easily and listed on DEXs with little to no KYC or AML. Anyone can set up a liquidity pool, and even an IDO with basic due diligence checks still has a high level of risk. Many crypto projects are anonymous, making it easy for a team or owner to rug pull without risking their identity.
Common signs of a rug pull include a token price that rapidly rises without sufficient liquidity protection. If project owners can remove their funds immediately or shortly after the project's launch, there is an opportunity for a rug pull. Additionally, there is usually a lot of investor hype via social media platforms. To protect yourself from rug pulls, conduct diligent research on projects, including their product state, tokenomics, token distribution method, liquidity, and team. You can minimize your risk by ensuring that the above are all as transparent and verifiable as possible.
There are two main types of rug pulls: hard and soft. A hard rug pull happens suddenly, without warning. The token price drops to zero, leaving investors with worthless coins and no way to recover their investments. Soft rug pulls are more subtle, with developers creating a fake image of a successful project and selling their tokens slowly over time.
Regardless of the type, rug pulls can be categorized into three groups: liquidity stealing, limiting sell orders, and dumping.
Liquidity stealing occurs when developers remove all the coins from the liquidity pool, causing the token's value to plummet to zero. This type of rug pull is most common in DeFi environments.
Limiting sell orders is a sneaky way for developers to scam investors. They code the tokens so that only they can sell them and wait for retail investors to buy into their new crypto. Once the token's price goes up, they sell their positions and leave investors with worthless coins.
Dumping occurs when developers quickly sell off their own large supply of tokens, causing the token's price to drop sharply. This leaves investors holding worthless coins. This type of scam is known as a Pump-and-Dump Scheme and often happens after heavy promotion on social media platforms. Dumping is more of an ethical gray area than other DeFi rug pull scams because it's not necessarily illegal for developers to buy and sell their own currency. However, the speed and amount of selling can make it a fraudulent activity.
Take this Crypto Scam Quiz to test your Knowledge. The minimum score to pass the Quiz is 70% of correct answers.
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