At its heart, what is a currency? In truth, not much. Governments print money as they need – not as they can afford. Fiat currency is the term; it’s all fake and it always has been. Heck, we used to exchange seashells as currency and more recently money was backed by gold held in reserve, but that backing by gold was abandoned in the middle of the last century. Money works because enough people trust the system and hence use it. That’s all it is, money is just trust.
With this in mind, the creators of cryptocurrency said, “Why can’t we create our own digital currency?” The short answer is absolutely you can, hence we got Bitcoin in 2009. Created by Satoshi Nakamoto, it is equal parts complicated concepts and coding but also another part that says that if we all agree it works – it works. If I agree your cryptocurrency has value, then for us as two people transacting it does have value and it’s real.
At this point many different characters come into the spotlight but I am going to focus on Refilwe Nkele, or Ref Wayne as he’s known. In 2015 he is teaching foreign currency (FX) trading via his African FX Institute, making YouTube videos about his secret that he reveals during free FX trading workshops and ultimately making great money referring people to specific brokers who pay him commission. It’s a good business and he’s making good money. But no doubt he also wonders if it could be more; who wouldn’t?
At about this time, South Africa’s self-proclaimed youngest millionaire, Sandile Shezi, runs into some issues, including his FX broker going bust. This leaves Shezi earning no legacy commissions and nowhere to send new people. He also runs an FX trading institute (Global Forex Institute) that offers free training and funnels people to a FX broker who pays commission. But the broker is gone and now it’s time to start again.
Ref Wayne surely saw this happening and realised the risks. You have to imagine that he wondered how he could make more money with less risk – the impossible dream.
But Ref Wayne is exactly that, a dreamer – he truly believes that he can create a currency and that if he can get enough people to agree his currency has value, well, then it does have value.
I agree with him 100%.
Anybody can create a currency, crypto or real world. A search of coinmarketcap.com shows 727 cryptocurrencies with a combined value of just over $12.8bn. Bitcoin makes up $10.3bn of that total value, with Ethereum (at $1.3bn) the only other with a value of over $1bn. Astonishingly, 75 cryptocurrencies have a value of over $1m and 210 are worth more than $100 000. You can see the attraction of starting your own, even if most disappear into the night without any value.
This is the truth – far more cryptocurrencies than the current 727 in existence have failed, with only a few succeeding and they still have challenges. Dogecoin had great dreams, even sponsoring a Nascar once to raise awareness. At the currency’s peak, one Dogecoin was worth $1.25 each, but is now worth $0.000248. Heck, a couple of years ago I created my own cryptocurrency and I mined 1bn for myself. The problem is that nobody else sees any value in them and so I have not been able to spend a single one. For the record, I also mined a few Bitcoins way back when it was easy and I still have two of them in my wallet.
But Pipcoin’s creators had bigger dreams and in February they registered pipcoin.co.za and mypipcoins.com. They launched Pipcoin, selling them at R100 each, promising that in time the price will boom when it is no longer locked at the R100 limit. To really juice the price and create mass interest (and sales), we saw Ref Wayne posing in front of numerous different luxury cars, even saying that he’d bought a private jet and was buying his mother a R50m house for Mother’s Day.
None of this is verifiable but it generated a great deal of interest. I kept on meeting people who were buying the Pipcoins at R100 and introducing new affiliates. The affiliates are a red flag: people you introduce (up to four levels below you) earn you commission on their purchases, pretty much like any two-bit pyramid scheme.
Ref Wayne also posted on Facebook that he will be on stage with Mark Zuckerberg in June, a statement he is still repeating although the month is no longer being mentioned as June has passed with no such meeting. He also posted that Zara will start accepting Pipcoin and that he has signed a deal with MasterCard to enable withdrawals at its ATMs. I contacted both Zara and MasterCard and they both denied any deal with Pipcoin. Yet as recently as 18 July a video posted on YouTube repeats the claim that they have signed a deal with MasterCard (http://bit.ly/2b7Hghp).
Is Pipcoin a cryptocurrency?
But it is working; people believe the story about creating massive wealth and are being sucked into the lifestyle Ref Wayne claims to lead. Soon Pipcoin was all over the media, promising to create one new millionaire a day and no less than 35% a month growth. Ref Wayne is now claiming that, at age 21, he is Africa’s youngest billionaire.
For me it all started to unravel in a massive way when Pipcoin promised 35% growth a month. This crosses a line. The safest investment in the world is considered to be USA debt and there maybe you can get a 2% return – 2% a year. A promise of 35% a month is a lie in the same vein as MMM and others that have come before and will come after.
It was actually this promise of 35% a month that first alerted me that Pipcoin is a scam. Nobody can promise returns even close to this level and so this is when I started digging into Ref Wayne and Pipcoin as a cryptocurrency.
The short answer is that Pipcoin is not a cryptocurrency. It is merely something created by Ref Wayne that he is selling hand over fist, making himself a massive amount of money in the process.
A cryptocurrency requires two very important components. Firstly, the code base and detailed notes on how to mine new coins. Cryptocurrencies are created by using one’s computer to solve increasingly complex mathematical equations. For every completed equation a coin is created and the coin that follows takes a little more processing power in order to slow the creation of new coins. This code base needs to be published so that it can be verified but also so that anybody can mine.
The entire point of a cryptocurrency is that it is decentralised and hence anybody can mine new coins. Yet with Pipcoin they have not released the details on how to mine, so the only mining is being done by Pipcoin itself.
The other major concern is that every cryptocurrency must have a blockchain. This is a ledger of sorts that stores every single transaction so that each one can be verified by the broader community and so that we can see who owns what and how many exist. Importantly, while I can see who owns what coins, no one is identified by name – it is a long hash string that keeps each individual anonymous.
Pipcoin claims to have a pipchain, but it is totally fake and not verifiable and there are no notes on mining. In fact, the section on mining is merely a cut-and-paste job from standard Bitcoin websites, explaining the process at a high level but with the “bit” part of each page replaced with “pip”.
In other words, the only entity creating (and hence selling) Pipcoin is Pipcoin.
By late June I have caught Ref Wayne for multiple lies (Zuckerberg, Zara and MasterCard) and his promise of 35% a month is absolutely not realistic. But even more importantly, Pipcoin is not decentralised nor is the blockchain public. In other words, this is not a cryptocurrency, this is a scam.
In late July another part of the scam fell into place when they launched pipchain.com. This sets out to be the heart of the cryptocurrency as a verifiable blockchain and is pretty much a copy of blockchain.info, the blockchain for Bitcoin. The key difference is that the Bitcoin one works while the Pipcoin one does not. Clicking on the height (an indication of difficulty) I should get all the details, the same goes for clicking on last transaction. This is the crux, a cryptocurrency is transparent.
This new website also includes some stats and charts. Interestingly, on the markets page it says the market cap of Pipcoin is $10.5bn. Yup, billion. That Pipcoin managed to become the world’s largest cryptocurrency (Bitcoin’s market is verified at $10.3bn) in less than six months and with nobody in the cryptocommunity ever having heard of it is beyond believable.
This new website even shows a Pipcoin block being created for the value of $12m, while I have seen transactions going through that claim values of over $1m. For a new cryptocurrency this is not even remotely possible.
Yet there is hope since, as I stated upfront, anybody can create a currency and if you can get others to trust it, we can use it for transacting. If Pipcoin wants to move beyond a scam and become a real cryptocurrency, they must release notes on how to mine and publish a real and verifiable blockchain for the currency.
So far, all they have is notes on how to accept Pipcoin via websites.
Further, Pipcoin must stop promising 35% a month. In fact, no profit at all can be promised if it is a true cryptocurrency. Bitcoin has surged to sell over $1 000 and crashed to just above $200 before again moving higher in recent months.
This brings in the last part of the Pipcoin scam. Remember Ref Wayne started life teaching people how to trade FX via his African FX Institute. Well, he is still teaching people how to trade FX except now the FX he is teaching to trade is Pipcoin and he owns the entire process – I told you he dreams big.
The newly launched website promises the ability to trade and looks real, unless you dig under the hood and it’s all made up. So Ref Wayne is no longer sending people he has trained to an FX broker who earns all the money and only sends a commission back to him.
So now the big push starts. Ref Wayne will no doubt be promising massive riches and all via his own currency and trading platform. He owns it all – you buy Pipcoin from him and trade on his platform and he charges a transaction fee. He makes all the money and while a few people will make money trading Pipcoin, the vast majority will be fleeced into buying Pipcoins that are not a real, verifiable cryptocurrency and losing them trying to trade them FX style.
Pipcoin is a scam and will end badly for the vast majority of people involved.
RIGHT OF REPLY
Despite various attempts (detailed below), Simon Brown failed to get a reaction from Pipcoin or Ref Wayne.
Pipcoin support seems non-existent. They have a local mobile number one can call but after literally a hundred attempts it is only ever turned off. I emailed the two email addresses offered: one bounced back as not existing, while the other was never answered. Lastly there is an online chat support option that does respond initially. But whenever I asked questions, it stoppped answering.
I have seen a number of people asking on Facebook for help on a range of issues from signing up, to receiving funds from sales and transferring coins to the new website. I reached out to a few asking if they’d been helped but with no responses.
I sent a series of questions to Pipcoin and Ref Wayne via email, support chat and Facebook with no response at all.
The questions were as below:
I am writing an article
on Pipcoin for finweek and would
on some issues:
- Eight Facebook posts said a Pipcoin card would be issued that works with Zara and MasterCard. I have spoken with both companies and they both denied this fact.
- Ref Wayne said on Facebook he would be on stage with Mark Zuckerberg in June. Can details please be provided as Facebook denies this?
- Who has been selling the initial Pipcoins as one is unable to “mine” one’s own Pipcoins?
- You claim Pipcoin is decentralised but all mining is being done on your computers, not client computers?
- How do you promise 35% a month when Pipcoins trade freely? Surely this would be determined by supply and demand and supply will overwhelm demand as right now nobody is mining?
- Why is Ref Wayne doing FX trading courses? This is surely in no way linked to Pipcoin as a cryptocurrency?
This article originally appeared in the 18 August edition of finweek. Buy and download the magazine here.