For me, lockdown has mostly centered on chain-watching Married at First Sight Australia – a show that first aired in 2017 – and being bored out of my mind. So when a good friend told me they’d found a secret trading group that could make us instant cash, I was in without a second thought.
At the time, the news had exploded with tales of the Wall Street Bets subreddit defeating hedge funds and regular people racking up huge profits. This finally seemed like my chance to get in on the action and make a large amount of money – plus, it seemed exciting. Of course – like any get rich quick scheme – everything started to go extremely wrong very quickly.
It all began when I was chatting to a good friend, Charlie* – a business-savvy individual – about Dogecoin, a trending cryptocurrency and meme stock. He said he put some money into it the previous week and had made over £200, calling it “a golden ticket” to quick riches. It felt like I couldn’t afford not to join in, so I asked him what I needed to do to get involved.
Charlie mentioned that I needed to join a private Telegram group called “Big Pump Signal” which had 70,000 members and regularly boasted about making money for its users. The premise was a classic “pump and dump”.
Fans of The Wolf of Wall Street will be familiar with the term, but if not, it's essentially an organized group of people who all buy the same stock or currency at a specific time en masse. Your stock price rockets (the pump), before you sell it again at a grossly inflated price (the dump). It seemed easy enough.
I took some money out of my savings and did some reading about pump and dump success stories to help build my confidence ahead of the Telegram group announcing which coin they would be pumping and dumping next. I also looked through the chat history and saw they had achieved several successful pump and dumps over the last few weeks.
“Dear members,” read one message. “Today’s pump saw a peak of 1,100 percent and is still up 120 percent as of right now. More than 110 million USD flowed into $PNT in the first hour. Stay tuned for the next pump.”
At this point, I thought I was quids in and began thinking about the wild riches that were about to come my way, all while sitting on my arse at home.
I loaded up a cryptocurrency exchange website called Binance and deposited £100. This would sit in my account, ready and waiting for the message when the group would announce what crypto they would be pumping and dumping money into that week. Charlie told me he was putting in £100 too, so the risk factor dropped in my mind; I’d known him to be good at investing, and I thought that he knew what he was doing.
Over the next couple of days, the pump and dump was all I could think about. I wondered if £100 was enough to put in or if I should add more – the organisers were sending out frequent updates to keep the excitement rolling – but, thankfully, I stuck with my initial deposit.
If this pump and dump went as well as the group’s last one, I stood to make £1,000 without lifting a finger (£1,000!). I thought about how I would pay off my overdraft and considered putting some away for a post-pandemic holiday. The possibilities were endless. As I tried – and struggled – to fall asleep that night, The Adventures of Stevie V’s “Dirty Cash” rang around my brain. I was drunk on it.
Then, before I knew it, the next day had rolled around and the name of the pump and dump coin was about to drop. I stretched my hands and had the Binance Spot Market loaded and ready to go. The advice was simple: the quicker you were, the better your profits would be.
The clock struck nine. The coin was announced as “Sky” – I’d never heard of it, but that didn’t matter – and I managed to buy hundreds of pounds worth within ten seconds of the signal. Now I just had to sit back, watch the price rocket and pull out with a pocketful of cash. However, the price started to plummet within seconds.
I refreshed the page and my £100 was suddenly worth less than half of that. Instantly, I started to sweat. I was the real-life Mr Krabs meme. I refreshed, again and again, watching my money disappear on a graph in real-time.
It was only four minutes past nine and the writing was sadly already on the wall. I'd been had. My £100 was now worth £8.
After a bit of research, it turned out that the organisers of the group had quietly accrued large amounts of the currency over a prolonged period to avoid suspicion. Then, once buyers like me jumped on board, they cashed in. As the signal went out and we were all clamouring to buy $Sky, the chiefs of “Big Pump Signal” were selling it – in bulk – sending the price crashing down.
I had an apology from Charlie already – I knew he had lost money too, so I didn’t want him to feel worse. I said no worries and felt grateful that I hadn't told any of my friends about it or tried to get them on board. I felt bad about the rest of the group, some people would have lost thousands of pounds and there was nothing they could do about it. The reality check for me was bad enough – I thought about the people who would have borrowed money to try this and where that might leave them. It left a really sour taste.
Two hours later my phone buzzed and it was the Telegram group. In came a message from the organisers: “What a success!” I realized then why you can’t send replies in the chat – newcomers would never know what happened. It’s the perfect crime. The group is still active at the time of writing and the scam happens over and over again.
The weirdest thing was, at no point had I even considered that this Telegram group might be a scam. The thought hadn't even crossed my mind, but now, my pride was hurting more than my wallet. I think I was more hooked on the thrill of having something to do rather than the actual rewards of the scheme. It was a few days of excitement in a time where a single nugget of fun is hard to come by, but what comes up must come down. In this case, quite literally as I watched the figures fall in real time.
As I thought about the money I had lost, the words that echoed in my head came from The Real Hustle – a decades-old BBC Three TV show. They ended every episode with a simple warning that “if it seems too good to be true – it probably is.” I think I’ll leave the trading to Wall Street Bets from now on.
Editor’s note: The moderators of Big Pump Signal’s Discord channel did not respond to multiple requests from VICE for comment.