Frederik Van Lierde

The Dark Side of Venture Capital: Five Scams to Watch Out For

How to recognize Venture Capital Scams? It covers five common tricks used by scammers and provides tips for identifying warning signs and safeguarding your money, including examples from actual scams. It's a helpful guide for anyone looking for or to invest. The Dark Side of Venture Capital: Five Scams to Watch Out For

Table of Contents

1. Phantom Ventures

Phantom Ventures, as the name implies, involves scams built around nonexistent businesses. The scammers create an elaborate facade of a startup, complete with professional-looking websites, fictitious executive profiles, and seemingly impressive financials. The trap is set for investors seeking to cash in on the ground floor of a promising startup.

Real-world example:
The case of BigFunds, a purported venture capital firm that lured investors with promises of high-yield returns from its portfolio of tech startups. However, investigations revealed the startups to be fictitious, leaving investors with substantial financial losses.

Protection Against Phantom Ventures
When considering investment in a new venture, it's crucial to conduct thorough due diligence. You can do this by independently verifying the company's claimed registrations and the identities of the individuals involved. Speak with professionals in the field who can provide insight into the viability of the company’s product or service. Reach out to trusted advisors or investment professionals who can help analyze the proposed business plan.

2. Ponzi Venture Scheme

In Ponzi Venture Schemes, the tricksters use money from new investors to provide returns to earlier investors. This type of scam creates the illusion of a successful investment while in reality, the funds are continually being drained.

Real-world example:
The infamous Bernie Madoff scandal is a stark example. While not strictly a VC, Madoff’s investment firm promised unusually consistent returns and used new investors' capital to pay off earlier investors.

Protection Against Ponzi Venture Schemes
Protecting yourself from Ponzi schemes involves looking out for red flags, such as promised consistently high returns and unregistered investments. It's essential to ask for and review all documentation about the investment. Finally, if returns or dividend payments are late or missing, this could be an early sign of a Ponzi scheme, and it may be wise to withdraw your investment.

3. Fabricated Returns

Scammers using this strategy present inflated or entirely fabricated returns on investments. By showcasing exceptional, often too-good-to-be-true performance, they lure unsuspecting investors into their trap.

Real-world example:
Theranos demonstrated this type of scam. The health tech company misrepresented its technology's capabilities and potential profitability, leading to massive losses when the truth surfaced.

Protection Against Fabricated Returns
To protect yourself from scams involving fabricated returns, always research independent sources to verify claimed returns. This can involve looking at industry benchmarks, historical data, and the returns of similar investments. Be wary of ventures that promise guaranteed high returns – investments inherently involve risk, and such promises are often a red flag.

4. Fictitious Products

This strategy involves inventing a product or service that does not exist or vastly exaggerating its potential. By creating a convincing pitch for a groundbreaking product, scammers can secure substantial investment for their nonexistent product.

Real-world example
The case of Juicero, a startup that raised around $120 million for a juicing device touted as revolutionary. However, the product turned out to be significantly overhyped and underperforming, leading to investor losses.

Protection Against Fictitious Products
In the case of potential scams involving fictitious products, consider seeking expert opinion on the product's feasibility and market potential. Conduct thorough research to verify the existence and functionality of the product. Furthermore, demand to see a working prototype or beta version of the product before investing.

5. Extortion through Short and Distort

Short and distort scams involve spreading negative rumors or misinformation about a company after taking a short position in it. As the company's stock value plummets, the scammer profits from the decrease.

Real-world example:
An anonymous blogger named Iceberg Research orchestrated a short and distort scheme against the commodity company Noble Group, spreading negative reports that led to a sharp decline in Noble Group's stock.

Protection Against Short and Distort Scams
In order to protect yourself from 'Short and Distort' scams, it's important not to make investment decisions solely based on rumors or information from non-credible sources. Always consider the source of any negative news and check the information against reliable news outlets or direct company reports. Monitor the market for abnormal activities and invest only in ventures and stocks that have demonstrated transparency and credibility.


The complexities of the venture capital world, coupled with the potential for high returns, often make it a prime target for scams. These scams, ranging from phantom ventures to short and distort tactics, can be mitigated through due diligence, skepticism of 'too good to be true' offers, and verification of all claims.


The article shines a light on the shady parts of venture capital, pointing out the scams investors need to watch out for. It lists five sneaky tactics scammers love, like making up companies that don't exist, lying about how much money they're making, and selling products that are pure fiction.

Plus, it throws in some real-life stories to show how these scams play out.

To keep your money safe from these tricks, the article stresses the importance of doing your homework. This means double-checking all the details about the investment and getting advice from someone who knows their stuff.

By being smart and thorough in your research, you can avoid getting caught in venture capital scams.