Crypto Pump and Dumps Have Generated $825 Million in Activity This Year: WSJ

Price manipulation involving ‘pump and dump’ schemes are alive and well in the cryptocurrency market. According to new research by The Wall Street Journal, organized cryptocurrency groups have generated at least $825 million in trading activity over the past six months.

Pump Groups Thrive in Nascent Crypto Market

In a comprehensive review of trading data and online communications among crypto traders between January and July, WSJ identified 175 pump and dump schemes spanning 121 different coins. Among the 50 pumps with the biggest increase in price, nearly half had lost their value.

Among the dozen pump groups analyzed by WSJ, Big Pump Signal and its 74,000 Telegram followers have had the biggest impact on markets. The group engineered 26 pumps resulting in $222 million in trades.

Pump schemes have exploded over the past 18 months as initial coin offerings (ICOs) garnered mainstream attention. More than $12 billion has flowed into coin offerings since January 2017, according to, inviting a new form of speculation in markets that remain largely unregulated to this day.

Analysts say most pump and dumps following a similar pattern: the group announces a time and exchange for a pump; at the set time, traders execute the signal, creating a short-term buying frenzy; after a set time (usually a few minutes), the coin is sold for instant profit.

One of the biggest pumps in recent memory came in early July after Big Pump Signal commanded its followers to buy cloakcoin (CLOAK), an obscure cryptocurrency that purports to be “fully private, secure and untraceable.” After the call was made, CLOAK spiked 50% on Binance before plummeting more than 20% after two minutes.

Stopping the Fraud

Although the pump and dump is one of the oldest forms of market fraud, regulators have struggled to stem the practice. As WSJ reports, similar practices were banned in the 1930s, but that hasn’t stopped pump and dumps from proliferating at different points in history. Jordan Belfort, whose life was chronicled in the movie “Wolf of Wall Street,” pleaded guilty in 1999 for running pump and dumps costing investors more than $200 million.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regularly deals with pump and dumps in the stock market, but has yet to bring a case involving cryptocurrencies. In the meantime, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) has offered a reward for anyone who warns the agency about potential pump and dump schemes involving cryptocurrencies.

“If you have original information that leads to a successful enforcement action that leads to monetary sanctions of $1 million or more, you could be eligible for a monetary award of between 10 percent and 30 percent,” a CFTC memo, released in February, read. That translates into a potential reward of at least $100,000.

Disclaimer: The author owns bitcoin, Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies. He holds investment positions in the coins, but does not engage in short-term or day-trading.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Chief Editor to and Contributor to, Sam Bourgi has spent the past nine years focused on economics, markets and cryptocurrencies. His work has been featured in and cited by some of the world's leading newscasts, including Barron's, CBOE and Forbes. Avid crypto watchers and those with a libertarian persuasion can follow him on twitter at @hsbourgi