It was over three years ago, back in May 2014, when we wrote “How Bots Manipulated The Price Of Bitcoin Through “Massive Fraudulent Trading Activity” At MtGox” in which we first demonstrated one of the more striking observed “bot-driven” bitcoin manipulation schemes, in this case related to the infamous collapse of the now defunct Mt.Gox bitcoin exchnage.
As we wrote at the time, a number of traders began noticing suspicious behavior on Mt. Gox. Basically, a random number between 10 and 20 bitcoin would be bought every 5-10 minutes, non-stop, for at least a month on end until the end of January, by what appeared to be two algos, named later as “Willy” and “Markis.” Each time, (1) an account was created, (2) the account spent some very exact amount of USD to market-buy coins ($2.5mm was most common), (3) a new account was created very shortly after. Repeat. In total, a staggering ~$112 million was spent to buy close to 270,000 BTC – the bulk of which was bought in November.
“So if you were wondering how Bitcoin suddenly appreciated in value by a factor of 10 within the span of one month, well, this is why. Not Chinese investors, not the Silkroad bust – these events may have contributed, but they certainly were not the main reason. But who did it? and why?”
Of course, in the end this alleged manipulation did not help Mt.Gox which eventually collapsed in what has been the biggest case of cryptocoin fraud in history.
We bring up this particular blast from the past, because in the latest case of bitcoin market abuse – with Bitcoin trading at all time highs above $3,000 – Cointelegraph reports of rumors swirling about a trader “with nearly unlimited funds who is manipulating the Bitcoin markets.” This trader, nicknamed “Spoofy,” received his “nom de guerre” because of his efforts to “spoof” the market, primarily on Bitfinex.
Of course, spoofing is what Navinder Sarao pled guilty of last year, when regulators inexplicably changed their story, and instead of blaming a Waddell and Reed sell order for the May 2010 flash crash, decided to scapegoat the young trader who allegedly crashed the market due to his relentless spoofing of E-mini futures (and also making $40 million in the process of spoofing stock futures for over five years).
It now appears that a spoofer has once again emerged, only this time in Bitcoin.
For those unfamiliar, spoofing is simple: it is the illegal practice of placing a large buy order just below other buy orders, or a large sell order just above other sell orders, then cancelling if it appears that the order is about to be hit or lifted. The idea is to make traders think that somebody with deep pockets is getting ready to buy or sell, in hopes of moving the market. If traders see a sell order of 2000 Bitcoin they may rush to panic sell before the whale crashes the price. And vice versa on the bid-side.
As an example of Spoofy’s trading pattern, here is a breakdown of a typical “trade” by the mysterious entity as noted by BitCrypto’ed who first spotted the irregular activity: Spoofy is a regular trader (or a group of traders) who engages in the following practices:
- Places large bids ($2 million and up) for Bitcoin, usually just under a smaller bid order, only to remove them once someone starts to sell. These orders usually have a lifetime of minutes, or sometimes as short as 5–10 seconds to manipulate the price up (more common)
- Places large asks ($2 million and up), for Bitcoin when he wants the price to go down, or stop going up (less common)
- Occasionally ‘Spoofy’ will allow orders deep in the orderbooks to remain for a few hours, usually $50–$100 below the current price. For example, during the recovery above $2,000, he had roughly 4,000 BTC of false orders in the $1,900 range that were unlikely to execute, and ultimately were never executed.
As noted above, spoofing is actually illegal – as ultimately the trader has no intention of ever executing the publicized trade – but as Bitcoin markets are largely unregulated, it’s a very common practice.
What is unusual in this case is the nearly unlimited bankroll that Spoofy has at his disposal: He regularly places orders approaching $60 million.
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