CRYPTO CURRENCY NEWS: Crypto Scams that Rocked Asia to the Core, Part 3: iFan and Pincoin

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Asia has been through more than its fair share of nasty crypto scam dramas, from the Mt. Gox scandal right through to 2021 and its plethora of AI-powered fraudsters.

In part 3 of a three-part series, looks at just a few of the continent’s most infamous instances of crypto fraud.

Part 3: iFan and Pincoin

The PlusToken scam found fertile ground in Vietnam, but the nation was also the victim of two interlinked initial coin offering (ICOs) schemes that sparked street protests and a full-blooded, nationwide crypto crackdown.

Named iFan and Pincoin, the projects were the brainchild of Bui Thi My Ngoc, Ho Phu Ty, Ho Xuan Van, Luong Huynh Quoc Huy, Luu Trong Tuan, Nguyen Duc Trong, Nguyen Trung Hieu, and Vu Huu Loi. They claimed that the projects were originated in India and Singapore but they were actually local.

As a front, they used a company named Modern Tech, which was registered with the appropriate tax and legal department. They used this firm to hold large-scale events across the country, from Ho Chi Minh City, Vung Tau, and Hanoi to rural areas, accruing millions of dollars worth of investment (mostly bitcoin (BTC) and ethereum (ETH)) in the space of just a few months.

In a retrospective piece published in May this year, Vietnam Biz reported that Modern Tech claimed to “specialize in the research and application of new technologies,” and said it was “boldly bringing blockchain applications into the Vietnamese entertainment industry.”

The firm claimed that it had scores of celebrity backers, many of whom were using a social media platform that was ostensibly powered by the tokens. Modern Tech claimed that the pincoin and iFan tokens would “build a bridge between stars and their supporters.”

It sought to foster this illusion by paying top stars to perform at events they organize, making it appear that these celebrities were actually using the platform to connect with their fans.

And the 2017-2018 Asia-wide crypto buzz proved to be too contagious for many, who were promised monster returns on their stakes by Modern Tech representatives.

But in late 2017, eyebrows began to rise when some of the celebrities featured in Modern Tech marketing materials – such as the chart-topping singers Lam Truong, Le Quyen, and Dam Vinh Hung – started to claim that they actually had nothing to do with iFan or Pincoin. They protested that their photos were being used without permission.

In December 2017, a whistleblower came forward to police in Ho Chi Minh City, telling of how investors had sunk over USD 30m into the platform, which claimed to have issued 21m tokens.

But the real damage was done in the subsequent months as the Modern Tech claims became ever more outlandish. The company’s coffers became swollen with investors’ funds, accruing a total of USD 660m.

Tuoi Tre News reported that investors were told they “would enjoy a profit rate of 48% a month from their initial investment, and recoup all investments after four months.”

Furthermore, they were also told they could bump up their profits by another 8% for every new member they convinced the join. They were also told that they could buy tokens starting at USD 0. 10 apiece, per Thanh Nien.

But the masterminds were careful to steer investors away from local platforms. In an attempt to evade local police, investors were instructed to send their funds in BTC or ETH through overseas-based exchanges.

Soon, around 32,000 people had sunk their money into the projects, which per a (still-extant) website, claim to be “based on the Ethereum network.” Using some clever sleight of hand, the project masterminds also took care to show off ETH’s market credentials – trading volumes, market capitalization, and all.

Sadly, however, the same media outlet reported, the projects turned out “in fact” to be “a multilevel marketing scheme” after all, adding that “older investors” were “paid with revenue generated by new investors.”

CRYPTO CURRENCY NEWS: Where are they now?

Things finally came to a head when the platform became unresponsive and staff stopped replying to contact requests. Furious investors “flocked” from all parts of the country to the Modern Tech headquarters in Ho Chi Minh City District 1’s busy Nguyen Hue St on April 8, 2018.

But it was all in vain. They had vanished in a puff of smoke. According to media outlets, Modern Tech had “left” the building that it had occupied and had “liquidated” its rental contract “about a month prior.” The building manager stated:

“No one knows where they are now.”

The group’s whereabouts are still unknown.

Van Nguyen, an accountant in the city of Hai Phong, told back in mid-April 2018:

“Cryptocurrencies were the talk of the town up until a few weeks ago, with everyone seemingly advising friends and colleagues to start investing or mining. However, the mood here has changed pretty fast.”

Fast-forward to 2021 and not much has changed, Van Nguyen stated. She told that there was still a “sour” sentiment among many in the nation. She explained:

“While people in other counties were eagerly buying bitcoin and so on earlier this year, most Vietnamese people I know were highly skeptical. They still remember 2018 very clearly.”

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