Fake news and fun fiction: the Telegram scam

Here’s an interesting ICO poser for you; when is an ICO not an ICO? The answer is, when it hasn’t happened, might not ever happen, doesn’t exist (probably), and yet your email inbox and social media feeds are still most likely full of excited invitations to get on board before you miss out on a terrific investment opportunity.

A white paper which circulated in December indicated that WhatsApp competitor Telegram was about to jump on the blockchain bandwagon to the potential tune of $500 million, in a bid to allow in-app payments. The attraction of messaging payments is obvious; financial transactions through chat systems without central control are clearly desirable, but it would appear to be turning into an all-round headache.

That pre-Christmas document indicated that the gift-giving would extend beyond the decorations coming down, with a pre-sale of Grams (as the tokens will allegedly be called) early in the New Year. Any day now, in fact. Except…

Except it would appear to be a huge pile of crap.

It took the Durov brothers – Pavel and Nikolai – a long time to shout “scam”, as Pavel eventually did at 1.32am GMT on 16th January via Twitter. The founders of not just Telegram, but of Russian alt-Facebook social media platform VK.com declined to comment for what is a very long time in an industry where massive developments and changes can take place over the course of a single working day.

The “why” of taking about a month to debunk the Gram ICO is an interesting question, although the old “all publicity is good publicity” adage is probably as good an explanation as any.

So what’s going on?

Since the recipients of the fake emails were Telegram users, that opens an entirely fresh can of worms with regard to data security anyway. Platform users received an invitation to participate in the Gram launch, asking them to click through to gramtoken.io, now known to be a fake website. Telegram’s Kod Durova channel blamed the scam on “fake members” of the Telegram Open Network team, who were offering the currency for 15 cents per coin. Facebook paid-for ads hooked in others. An anonymous launch on 6th January, the site would now appear to be down, although other Gram scams are still up and – for now – running.

Hang on, though…

This is one of those “are you thinking what I’m thinking?” moments. Pavel Durov likes to do-si-do with controversy (see his dismissal/resignation from VK for proof), so could this be a spectacular way to whip up interest and curiosity for a future cryptocurrency launch? The white paper itself would appear to indicate a totally non-ironic “seems legit” response, and even Vasily Sumanov, the ICObench.com advisor, would describe it as ‘fun fiction’ although doubts that the Durov brothers would be quite so coy if this was a scam off the back of a soft-leak for an actual launch in the near future. The consensus would appear to be “Not today, Satan”.

So will there be a Gram launch, and are we likely to be here again in a few weeks or months? Who can tell.

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