Frederik Van Lierde

Real-World Examples of VC Scams: How to Spot Red Flags

Discover Real-World VC Scams: How to Spot Red Flags and Avoid Falling Victim. Learn how scammers used Sequoia Capital, how Zano went bankrupt and more. Stay Informed to Protect Your Investments. Real-World Examples of VC Scams: How to Spot Red Flags
Venture capital (VC) scams are not as common as other types of fraud, but they can be devastating for entrepreneurs seeking funding for their startups. In this article, we will explore some real-world examples of VC scams, how they worked, their results, and most importantly, how to detect red flags upfront to protect yourself from falling victim to such schemes.

Scam 1: The Phantom Investor

In this classic VC scam, a fraudulent investor approaches a startup with an impressive portfolio and offers to invest a substantial amount of money. The catch? They require a significant upfront fee for due diligence, legal fees, or other fabricated expenses. Once the fee is paid, the "investor" disappears, leaving the entrepreneur with an empty bank account and no investment.

Red Flags:
  • Beware of investors who demand substantial upfront fees before providing any capital.
  • Verify the investor's credentials, track record, and references.
  • Ensure that all terms and agreements are in writing and reviewed by legal counsel.

Real-World Victim: Zano
Zano, a Kickstarter-backed drone startup, was scammed by a fraudulent investor who promised to provide additional funding. The investor requested an upfront fee of £2.5 million for due diligence, legal fees, and other expenses. After paying the fee, the company received no investment, and the "investor" disappeared. Zano eventually went bankrupt in 2015, and its backers lost their investments.

Scam 2: The Pump-and-Dump Scheme

In this scheme, a fake VC firm inflates the value of a startup by spreading false information and creating a buzz around it. Unsuspecting investors rush to buy shares in the company, driving up its stock price. Once the price reaches a peak, the scammers sell their shares and vanish, causing the stock to plummet and leaving legitimate investors with significant losses.

Red Flags:
  • Be cautious of exaggerated claims and hype surrounding an investment opportunity.
  • Research the VC firm and its history thoroughly.
  • Consult financial experts and conduct due diligence on the company's financials.

Real-World Victim: Cynk Technology Corp.
Cynk Technology Corp. was a little-known company with no revenue and few assets. However, fraudulent online promotion and social media hype led to a meteoric rise in the company's stock price. The scammers behind this pump-and-dump scheme profited by selling their shares at inflated prices. The SEC later suspended trading of Cynk's stock, which ultimately crashed, leaving investors with significant losses.

Scam 3: The Identity Theft Con

In this more sophisticated scam, fraudsters impersonate legitimate VC firms or investors, using stolen identities and convincing fake documents. They may even set up fake websites and email addresses to appear genuine. Once entrepreneurs share sensitive information, the scammers can steal identities, commit fraud, or engage in other illicit activities.

Red Flags:
  • Verify the authenticity of the VC firm or investor by contacting them directly through trusted channels.
  • Scrutinize all communication for signs of inconsistency or unprofessionalism.
  • Protect sensitive information and limit what you disclose until you are certain of the other party's legitimacy.

Real-World Victim: Sequoia Capital
In 2020, a group of scammers impersonated Sequoia Capital, a reputable VC firm, and targeted several startups. They created a convincing website, used fake email addresses, and posed as Sequoia representatives. These scammers managed to trick multiple entrepreneurs into disclosing sensitive company information and financial data, which they later used for identity theft and other fraudulent activities.


Venture capital scams can have devastating consequences for entrepreneurs and investors alike. To protect yourself from falling victim to such schemes, it is crucial to stay vigilant and recognize the red flags. Always conduct thorough due diligence, verify the legitimacy of investors, and seek legal counsel when necessary. Remember that genuine VC firms and investors do not require hefty upfront fees or engage in suspicious activities. By staying informed and cautious, you can navigate the world of venture capital with confidence and avoid becoming a victim of fraud.