This Is How Easy It Is to Buy ICO Ratings — An Investigation

Newcomers and inexperienced investors are especially trusting ICO rating platforms when looking for information for their investment decisions. However, many rating platforms long ago earned a dubious reputation amongst industry experts. There is constant suspicion that the expert ratings they provide are in no way independent, but can rather be purchased by ICOs. However, is it really so simple to buy ICO ratings and, in so doing, deceive investors? We went in search of clues — with frightening results.

Markus Hartmann
Jun 14, 2018 · 7 min read

We believe that crypto currencies can improve our economy and society. However, we also believe that current excess on the ICO market is harmful to individual investors as well as to the entire ecosystem. That was our reason for establishing Alethena.

Alethena is a one-hundred per cent objective and independent rating agency that provides investors with trustworthy information. We are currently in the process of executing our ICO. In the course of this process — like every other ICO — we took a closer look at how current ICO marketing actually functions.

We consistently encountered non-transparency, dubious practices, and scams. This not only intensified our belief in the need for transparent and independent ratings, but also our desire to uncover how dysfunctionally and deceptively the ICO ad market actually operates at present.

Hence, we launched an investigation.


As such, an ICO’s visibility does not depend on the quality of expert ratings, but only on how much money it was willing to pay for premium placement. Yet these paid top placements are not labelled as such. This results in a skewed image of reality for the inexperienced user looking for valid information on which to base investment decisions. No small number of users will mistakenly regard a prominently placed ICO as a recommendation from the rating platform and make investment decisions on this basis. It is evident that most rating platforms are nothing more than marketing tools hawking visibility to the highest bidders under the guise of supposedly legitimate and expert ratings. This alone is exemplary of the kind of dubious business practices that fuel non-transparency in the ICO market and deceive investors. However, it gets much worse.

This experiment is proof of how easy it is to buy expert ratings

It has long been a public secret in the crypto community that so-called expert ratings can often be purchased and are, as such, in no way independent.

In order to determine whether it is indeed so simple to buy supposed expert ratings, we registered an ICO on ICObench. Shortly after we registered with ICObench, a certain Vagiz wrote to us via Telegram and offered to get us positive ratings in exchange for payment.

An expert rating would cost 500 US dollars. After a brief negotiation, we finally agreed on 800 US dollars for two ratings. While talking to Vagiz we were also able to determine with how many stars the experts would rate us.

After Vagiz told us that both ratings had appeared on ICObench, we paid the agreed upon 800 US dollars in Ether. Following the transaction, Vagiz tried to sell us additional expert ratings.

He eventually offered us six more ratings at the price of 300 US dollars a piece.

Again, we purchased one rating at 0.56 ETH. Our ICO had now received a total of three decidedly positive expert ratings, which provided users on ICObench looking for trustworthy information a completely false image. The price: a good 1000 US dollars. Nothing compared to the sums currently circulating in the crypto world.

It gets even worse

John Smith’s assistance would cost 1.5 Ether per expert rating. We could eventually negotiate this down to 1 Ether.

In our Telegram chat with John Smith, we wanted to determine whether we could have even more influence on the fake ratings by specifying the rating text for experts to publish.

John Smith answered in the affirmative, and we sent him an extremely positive rating text, one which we very much wanted to read about ourselves.

The fact that the first letters of the four total paragraphs spelled out S-C-A-M went unnoticed by John Smith.

Shortly thereafter, a certain Stephanos Constantinou published a rating with the exact text we had provided.


That said, this blend of non-transparency and fraud is not just limited to rating platforms. It is also a common practice in many other areas of the ICO market. For example, bounty campaigns, used by nearly all ICOs, have mutated into an excessive marketing machine that floods social media with countless unlabelled ads leading inexperienced investors to believe there is supposed community interest in an ICO project when in fact there is none. There are also crypto media outlets, who pass off sponsored content financed by the ICOs as editorially independent contributions, thus deceiving their readers. The list of deceptive practices can go on and on — unfortunately.

Each one of them damages the crypto ecosystem in the long-term by undermining trust in the entire industry. However, in order to ensure long-term success, we as the crypto community need the trust of large portions of society. An initial step for building this necessary trust is creating transparency for investors.

That is why we will need independent and transparent ICO rating agencies like Alethena, which can provide investors with trustworthy information instead of shamefully deceiving them.

Alethena is the first Swiss Blockchain-Asset Rating Agency that is 100% independent, transparent, and neutral. Visit for more information.


Alethena enables the company setup of the future with…

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store