Belfort, who spent 22 months in jail after pleading guilty to securities fraud and money laundering, said while most investors probably did not have bad intentions with ICOs, it would only take a small proportion of people trying to scam the others for it to become a “disaster”.
“It is the biggest scam ever, such a huge gigantic scam that’s going to blow up in so many people’s faces. It’s far worse than anything I was ever doing,” Belfort told the Financial Times.
Digital currencies are pseudonymous, decentralized and encrypted, making it harder to track each of the transactions made, and the individuals behind them. Theoretically, anyone with an internet connection and a digital wallet can be part of a coin sale event. That, many worry, leaves plenty of room for people to launder money or engage in other fraudulent behaviors — especially in countries where corruption is rampant.
However, start-up companies argue ICO funding is a legitimate method of raising money and it is representative of a broad grassroots movement to unsettle big banks and venture funds. A frequent refrain from bitcoin enthusiasts and cryptocurrency stakeholders is that the blockchain system is actually problematic for would-be launderers.
That is, every transaction of a blockchain-based token is permanently recorded on a publicly view-able digital ledger. Although the parties associated with each exchange are hidden behind pseudonymous IDs, it is possible for investigators to track down who has done what if their activities go through a cooperating exchange.
So far this year, ICOs have raised more than $3 billion, according to Coinschedule.com.
— CNBC’s Saheli Roy Choudhury contributed to this report.