FCoin Exchange Shutdown: Technical Difficulties or Planned Scam?

AnChain.AI — Investigation completed 2020/02/18. All of our clients have been updated throughout with our proprietary intelligence, and are fully protected against anomalous and high-risk activity.

Abstract:

The AnChain.AI team reconstructed FCoin’s Bitcoin on-chain exchange flow timeline based on the official cold wallet, and revealed interesting insights on their original 25,000 Bitcoin holdings months before the FCoin shutdown announcement. Is FCoin facing technical difficulties, or is it executing a planned scam?

I. FCoin Shutdown Announcement

The crypto community was shocked by FCoin’s recent public statement regarding the shutdown. Not long ago, in late 2018, China-based FCoin was the №1 exchange by daily trading volume.

As stated below by FCoin CEO Zhang Jian, they may not be able to pay back the 7,000–13,000 BTC (between $67 million $125 million USD as of this writing) that it owes its users. FCoin announcement.

Figure 1 — On Feb 17, 2020 FCoin announces a shutdown due to “internal problems and technical difficulties” per official channels. Link: https://twitter.com/FCoinOfficial/status/1229363500977397760

Figure 2 — Feb 10, 2020, FCoin announces an unscheduled “system upgrade” and “server maintenance” event.

II. FCoin’s Empty Cold Wallet

The crypto community tends to have a short memory. In late 2018, FCoin was the №1 exchange by daily trading volume. The FCoin whitepaper disrupted the crypto exchange business model by the introduction of their transaction dividend reward program, and by officially publishing their cold wallets for transparency.

Ironically, this FCoin transparency web page is under maintenance. But we can still find their announcement on Jianshu.com. In June 2018, FCoin did, in fact, publicize their cold wallets for Bitcoin, USDT, and ETH.

Figure 3 — FCoin publishes their cold wallets in June 2018.

Upon brief examination of the cold wallet below, we observe that the last transaction was on Feb 13, 2020. Previous to the final transaction was another on Oct 26, 2019, about 4 months prior, with no activity in between.

This official FCoin cold wallet is empty. In total, it has received and sent over 25,350 Bitcoins (over $250 Million USD).

Figure 4 — FCoin cold wallet’s on-chain transactions as of Feb 18, 2020.

Ironically, on Feb 10, 2020 FCoin announced a system upgrade, followed by a series of strange withdrawal application announcements. Typically, this is a sign of an exchange suffering from data loss issues. This announcement was made right before the Feb 13 cold wallet bitcoin withdrawal transaction.

III. Reconstructing the FCoin On-Chain Timeline

From the FCoin official cold wallet address (12rU7whLERNrkDb8bTe9VJJSKZvCXy7dj7), the AnChain.AI intelligence system is able to track the Bitcoin UTXO transaction flows and reconstruct the timeline. Our system analyzed over 210,000 related transactions and revealed patterns of unusual activity among FCoin’s 40,000 wallet addresses in their exchange wallet infrastructure.

We performed 2 quick investigations on 2-hop and 3-hop exchange flows.

In 2 hops from the cold wallet, the Bitcoin flowed into 4 exchanges: OKEx, Huobi, Gate.io and Binance.

Activity stagnated between May-August 2019, and suddenly spiked in September 2019, 5 months prior to the FCoin shutdown announcement.

Figure 5 — AnChain.ai two-hop exchange flow timeline

By expanding the investigation to 3 hops of UTXO transaction flows, the funds reached a total of 11 exchanges potentially relevant to suspected FCoin cashout activities.

OKEx received the majority of the funds, followed by Binance, Huobi, Bithumb, Poloniex, Bitfinex, Gate.io, ZB, Bitflyer and Upbit.

Figure 6 — AnChain.ai three-hop exchange flow timeline

Figure 7. Fcoin cold wallet flow graph. Color encodes the distance from the original Fcoin cold wallets.

Again, the timeline demonstrates a clear uptick of activity during September 2019 and peaking in January 2020, immediately before the FCoin shutdown announcement.

So, was the FCoin Exchange Shutdown due to technical difficulties, or the culmination of a planned scam? Only the FCoin team would know for sure.

Blockchain data analytics firm providing security, risk, and compliance solutions.

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