10 Million ETH: Big Mysteries Revealed About PlusToken

Today, 10 million ETH is equivalent to ~$2 billion USD. That’s how much we estimate the PlusToken scheme was able to absorb from over 800,000 participants in ETH alone.

It is surprising that a Ponzi scheme of this magnitude went largely unnoticed by the English-speaking internet until recently. And even now that the scheme has been exposed, we find only scarce information available regarding what actually happened or the amount of funds involved.

To shed some light on the PlusToken situation, we decided to take a look at their activity on Ethereum. All the results below were generated via the Elementus Query Engine and are independently verifiable against the Ethereum blockchain. Source data and methods are described at the bottom of the post.

Our conclusions:

  • The data shows that PlusToken's network of approximately 100 addresses on the Ethereum blockchain took in nearly 10 million ETH from roughly 800k participants.
  • Of this amount, 820k ETH remains on-chain, with no movement of funds in or out since the end of June.
  • The remainder, about 9 million ETH, was sent out from the PlusToken wallets to 248k different addresses. However, only a few thousand of these account for the majority of the ETH volume.
  • It is unclear how many of these large transfers represent the winnings of users at the top of the pyramid, or PlusToken insiders disguising an exit scam as a complex withdrawal trend.
  • Most of the ETH payouts were moved into exchanges, with an unusually high percentage (48%) going to Huobi.

Each of these points is explained in more detail below.

Since mid 2018 PlusToken collected 9.9 million ETH from 800K participants

PlusToken_deposit_history

In the above time series, binned by block number instead of time, we measured the total volume of ETH collected by PlusToken.

Notice the sudden halt in deposits near block 8,040,000 (June 27th). This is the same day that several members of the PlusToken team were reportedly arrested in Vanuatu.

Most of the funds have been paid out

Of the 9.9 million ETH collected by PlusToken, 9.2 million ETH has already been sent out.

PlusToken_withdrawal_history

In the above plot, we measure the Ethereum withdrawals from PlusToken over time (binned by block number). Notice the spike in withdrawals around block 7,700,000, which is about a month before all user funds were frozen on June 27th (block 8,040,000).

820K ETH is still sitting cold on the blockchain in three PlusToken addresses

Address Ether (ETH) Dollar equivalent 8/19/2019 (USD)
0xf4a2eff88a408ff4c4550148151c33c93442619e 789,525 $159,863,119
0xef13a2c29f7a433aff08c60007bc276a64c7bdf5 20,009 $4,051,422
0x32b0ccd7fd17f2a03fd0346378e750fe1c5e2194 11,299 $2,287,787

Of the 9.9 million ETH collected by PlusToken, 820k ETH (about ~$166 million) remains on-chain, consolidated into the three addresses above.

Yes, there have already been big winners

The payouts were distributed across 248k different addresses. However, the volume of ETH is heavily concentrated in a few recipient addresses.

Assuming each of these addresses truly represents a single PlusToken participant, half of the ETH intake (~5 million ETH) was paid out to just ~7k "big winners" (less than 1% of participants). Those at the very top took out ETH valued at millions of dollars.

We list the top 10 biggest PlusToken "winners," along with their total ETH received below.

Address Ether (ETH) Dollar equivalent on 8/19/2019 (USD)
0x4416a953b466695a65f5c0a1634982fe6c090fe9 41,620 $8,258,181
0x6013f376191b0daa5910e69372316ab3b56d5d2e 21,602 $4,286,237
0x7e1793bc8cc86fef0ba448076d7cb0c773fd682f 19,276 $3,824,666
0x96afe718f1f424f0eb5ad017911fd9023918187e 19,059 $3,781,744
0xe6515162d73013b66697851a118b67b6eb73803a 16,727 $3,319,036
0xb100d11fd9cf3deb2995e10bdeea961ab81ade4e 16,235 $3,221,259
0x3d2d6f622dd2a855c688b2674741fd84dcd301bb 15,378 $3,051,388
0xd0ca6730bee060c11e3bf7759d6150b332a35080 14,972 $2,970,758
0xdbc5acac14d5e317ca76dda5fedfbc36a26afb7e 14,775 $2,931,727
0x98d2e9862e193d93657103362aaa6f721883b208 14,534 $2,883,826

It remains unclear whether these addresses truly represent users at the top of the pyramid, or a PlusToken exit scam disguised as user withdrawals.

However, we were able to chart the destinations of outgoing funds in the next section, and in doing so found some hints as to who may have the answer.

Huobi is heavily favored in PlusToken withdrawals

Our data also allows us to compile payout totals by receiving entity, where it can be seen that almost 50% of all withdrawals were sent to Huobi, indicating an unusually strong bias toward the Chinese exchange.

PlusToken payout history by exchange

The graphic above shows all 248k addresses that received ETH payouts from PlusToken, most of which were deposited into exchanges. The five largest exchange recipients are labeled in the graphic and broken out in the table below.

Exchange Percent of Total Withdrawals Total Withdrawn (ETH)
Huobi 48.08% 4,387,148
ZB.com 7.96% 725,989
Upbit 5.79% 528,282
Okex 3.42% 312,408
Gate.io 3.29% 300,018

In our view, this unusually high concentration of payouts in no way implies any wrongdoing on the part of Huobi. Rather, it raises the question of why so many PlusToken users would choose to store their winnings in that particular exchange.

How much did PlusToken collect from users across all cryptocurrencies?

PlusToken took in nearly $2bn in ETH alone. Considering the scheme was also highly active in BTC, XRP and EOS, once these amounts are considered, we anticipate PlusToken will emerge as the largest crypto Ponzi scheme yet, surpassing BitConnect/OneCoin/MMM by a substantial margin.

We are working on a final tally. Stay tuned to this blog for updates.


Methods

PlusToken network Ethereum

The above graphic shows the PlusToken cluster, as determined by the Elementus Query Engine. Each node represents a Ethereum address controlled by PlusToken and each edge represents a transaction between two addresses.

The red node at the bottom is the main PlusToken address, which served as the entry point for PlusToken deposits and where the bulk of remaining ETH currently sits. The blue nodes were used to process withdrawals.

For all calculations above, all addresses in the PlusToken cluster were consolidated and treated as a single entity. Hence, incoming/outgoing amounts represent the sum total transferred in/out of any addresses in the cluster.

The list of addresses shown can be downloaded here.

Donald Pierce

Data Scientist

New York, NY

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