In this investigation Fintelegram shows how investors of ICOs were manipulated by unethical marketing activities in the case of Cointed and Hydrominer.
The industry platform ICOBench has 1,394 projects in its database which are currently carrying out an Initial Coin Offering (ICO). All these companies vie for the favor of a limited number of crypto investors. The projects face the challenge of being able to attract and convince enough investors. For investors, the question arises: which investment properties are worthwhile? The answer lies in the public eye for both sides: Respectable influencers whose opinions are followed; independent rating agencies that put projects through their paces and media that report on projects.
In a functioning system, rating agencies and the media serve the public. They are committed to truth and conscientious research. Using the ICO of the Austrian cryptographic company Cointed, which is suspected of fraud, we want to show that investors are manipulated by the media, rating agencies and influencers.
Cointed ICO and the media
Cointed conducted an ICO between October 2017 and February 2018 to finance its expansion with bitcoin vending machines and cryptomining. While $100 million in revenues were targeted, the company had to settle for $4 million. Even during the ICO, suspicion of fraud arose. Former partner companies made accusations and the ICO documents proved that the ownership of the company was incorrectly stated.
Cointed’s ICO was heralded with an article in DerBrutkasten, which advertises the ICO in a form that pretty much looks like unlabelled PR. At the end of February the daily DerStandard uncritically reported on the company’s plans, when the accusations were already known. Both media can only be accused of having fallen for Cointed’s PR. However, the situation is completely different with the independent cryptomedium Cointstaker.
Coinstaker is paid by Cointed
Coinstaker reports several times a day from the crypto world. Among others, the news site was founded by the Austria-based entrepreneur Philipp Dimitrov. Between October 2017 and February 2018 Coinstaker reported 22 times about the Cointed ICO. A few articles have a very small reference “Press Release”, but the majority are presented as editorial content. These articles clearly advertise the ICO and encourage readers to invest: Cointed ICO Only 48 Hours Left (this one is labelled PR)
So far so bad, but that’s not all. Because nowhere one reads that Coinstaker founder Philipp Dimitrov according to his ICO agency coinmarketlaunch.com had Cointed as a marketing customer. It can be concluded from this that Coinstaker deliberately concealed from his readers that the editorial reports were pure advertising. And this happened in favor of a company involved in one of the largest European crypto-fraud cases.
Coinstaker is paid by HydroMiner
The PR machine was not only used for Cointed, but also for a second Austrian ICO, HydroMiner which is in Fintelegram’s focus. Here Dimitrov also appears as coinstaker author and writes at the beginning of the HydroMiner ICO:
“We from CoinStaker.com believe that the HydroMiner is already a successful startup surrounded by a great team. They are already making profits from their two hydro power plants. This ICO will let them scale even more.”
Nowhere in this article does it appear that Dimitrov was HydroMiner’s Chief Marketing Officer (according to his LinkedIn profile) at the time of writing.
Dimitrov manipulates ICOBench
While Dimitrov only used his own magazine with Coinstaker, his excursion on ICOBench looks completely different. ICOBench is the leading ICO rating platform for the crypto industry. ICO projects can register their ICO and receive an automated evaluation by the portal. Then independent experts can evaluate individual ICOs, justify their rating and enter into dialogue with the projects. Through a multitude of opinions, ICO investors should get a feeling for the quality of individual projects. Anyone who registers can be an expert on ICO-Bench. The unclear and sometimes questionable origin of the experts automatically reduces the quality of the ratings. ICOBench wants to prevent fake ratings by prohibiting experts from evaluating an ICO with whom they have a business relationship.
The wonderful report by Alethenas Markus Hartmann shows how easy it is to bribe “experts” for good reviews on ICOBench.
Philipp Dimitrov is registered as an expert on ICOBench. By August 2018 he had evaluated 21 ICO projects. Among them, of course, is Cointed and Hydrominer. Cointed’s evaluation was made on 5 February 2018, shortly before the end of the ICO, long after the first allegations of fraud. Not surprisingly, Dimitrov’s assessment: 100% positive. Not only does Dimitrov violate the ICOBench rules, his assessment reveals him bending the truth just a little: “I stumbled upon this project since it is from my home country.” It has long been clear that Dimitrov is by no means stumbling, but doing Cointed’s PR.
By the way, the majority of the other experts rated Cointed very badly. Nikolay Zvezdin even pointed out some inconsistencies in Cointed’s whitepaper which eventually was the first nail in the company’s coffin.
But that’s not all. Three days after Dimitrov, Cointed receives another 100% rating on ICO Bench. It is given by a certain Gabriela Hazboun. In addition to her rating work on ICOBench, she is a writer on Dimitrov’s Cointstaker news site as well as a member of Dimitrov’s ICO agency. Most of the advertising material about Cointed was actually written by her.
Why do two PR people rate the Cointed ICO? Because they thus improve the overall rating – the average of all ratings. This overall rating is often the only decision criterion for unsuspecting investors.
Why do it only once, when you can get away with it
Dimitrov’s agency site coinmarketlaunch lists its customer ICOs. For five of them, he repeats the unfairly biased ICOBench assessments, some of which are flanked by his colleague Hazboun.
It is not Fintelegram’s job to assess the legality of Dimitrov’s and Cointed’s press work. However, it is our task to show with what means investors in the cryptographic sector are manipulated. At least in the case of Cointed, this manipulation has led to a number of scammed investors.
The chutzpah of perceived inviolability
Fintelegram contacted Dimitrov to give him the opportunity for clarification. While he didn’t concede doing something wrong he wrote that we could talk about ICO Bench (which in the end he didn’t). So, we were not surprised that a week after first contact he edited Hydrominer’s ICOBench rating. But instead of clarifying his manipulation he just added the line “This is not investment advice. Please make your own research.”
Fintelegram wants to add to the research of potential Hydrominer investors. Go read this.
Also published on Medium.