Rug pulls have made headlines since the 2021 NFT boom, with investors losing over $25 billion as of November 2022. These headlines have sparked fear among investors, who are now skeptical when it comes to new NFT projects.
The likelihood of a rug pull, or a scam in which a cryptocurrency or NFT team exits a project along with its investors’ funds with them, seems to be increasingly greater.
In this article, we’ll cover the seven biggest NFT rug pulls of all time ranked by the amount of money stolen from investors.
Iconics was a Solana-based NFT project consisting of 8000 unique pieces of 3D artwork. It was created by an unknown 17-year-old 3D digital artist who promised unique 3D images to investors. Fourteen initial samples were showcased through the project’s Discord channel, which created the demand for more.
The project started with a pre-sale of 2000 items at 0.5 SOL; however, investors didn’t get what they paid for. Instead of 3D art, they received a random collection of emojis. After the sale, the project’s Discord went offline, and its official Twitter disappeared.
Blockchain data showed that the scammer had around 1000 SOL at the time, which equaled around $140,000. Investors never got their money back.
Mercenary was a medieval Play-and-Earn game where players could recruit a team of mercenaries to fight for MGOLD. The game was promoted on sites like thebittimes.com and BSC news, where it was praised for its innovative mechanics and unique gameplay.
Unfortunately, the game ended up being a rug pull.
After building a loyal group of players, a new Twitter handle known as the Mercenary Golg Community claimed that the Twitter and Telegram groups had been hacked. Within 24 hours of this post, everything connected to the project was wiped entirely, with only a few Twitter promotions remaining.
It’s estimated that the team stole around $760k of investors’ funds.
Frosties NFT – $1,300,000
Frosties was the first big NFT rug pull of 2022, and one that shocked the NFT community. It started with a huge marketing campaign, advertising 8,888 cartoon ice cream NFTs. The project was one of the fastest to ever sell out, with the team making an estimated $1.3 million in the process.
The team had promised investors unique staking features, a metaverse game, mint passes, and other long-term benefits. However, shortly after release, the Frosties social media channels, Discord servers, and website all disappeared. The project was completely shut down, and the project team disappeared.
Fortunately, rumors have stated that the creators were caught and charged with one count of wire fraud. Although the investors didn’t get their money back, the devs were punished for their scam.
Swipathefox – $1,500,000
Swipathefox was an NFT project created by NBA basketball player De’Aaron Fox, consisting of 6000 unique fox-themed NFTs. Fox promised investors exclusive NFT ownership perks, including giveaways, tickets, and exclusive chats with Fox himself.
Unfortunately, the project never bore fruit, with Fox stating that he didn’t have the time to work on it during the middle of the NBA season. In an interview, Fox said that he would be working on the collection in the future. However, he had to focus on his NBA career at that time.
As of November 2022, action has yet to be taken on the project, and investors have claimed they never got their money back.
Though not entirely a "rug pull" in nature, this one is in the "TBD" category.
Baller Ape Club – $2,000,000
Baller Ape Club looked like a legit NFT project when it was first released. Inspired by Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC,) it had a complete development team, a dedicated community, and plenty of investors supporting the project. The collection consisted of 5,000 NFTs that sold for a price of 2 SOL each.
After the public mint, the dev team rugged the project. They deleted all socials and stole around $2 million of investor funds. However, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) has since taken the project’s founder to court.
Le Anh Traun, a Vietnamese national, has been charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and international money laundering. Traun could face up to 40 years in prison as a result.
Evolved Apes – $2.7 million
Evolved Apes was an NFT collection of 10,000 apes that would battle one another to win rewards. To attract investors, the founder, known as “Evil Ape,” created competitions in which investors could win NFTs and other rewards. However, once the project sold out, Evil Ape disappeared and deleted all accounts associated with the project.
In total, $2.7 million was stolen, including funds that should have gone to the development team, marketing department, and artists. None of the competition winners were ever awarded their prizes, and the teams were never paid for their work.
Evil Ape was never found.
Bored Bunny- $21 million
Bored Bunny was one of the biggest NFT projects of 2022 and gained celebrity endorsements from French Montana, Jake Paul, and Floyd Mayweather. The 4,999 NFTs sold out in hours, minting for 0.4 ETH.
However, very quickly, in-house sources suggested that the founder was simply looking to steal investors’ money. Before launch, a dev wallet bought celebrity NFTs for additional profits, and after the initial launch, a second collection known as Bored Bad Bunny NFTs went on sale.
After the second collection sold out, the floor price dramatically dropped, and the dev team went missing, stealing $21 million in the process.
If this wasn’t bad enough, the remaining team released a third collection known as Bored Mutant Bunny, consisting of 3,000 NFTs selling for 0.25ETH. By this time, investors had realized the project was a scam, and it failed to sell.
Final Thoughts: Rugpulls and Mass NFT Adoption?
Rugpulls pose a threat to mass NFT adoption. With NFT scams consistently making headlines, many investors are forgetting the practical benefits of NFTs.
Without an adequate solution addressing the disparate set of NFT exchanges lacking authentication tools, we'll unfortunately probably see more rug pulls occur– this is why it's incredibly important to do your research and not YOLO into unverified projects.
However, the NFT market continues to grow despite rugpulls and the negative press surrounding rugpulls. We shouldn't let the high-flying conquests of a few malicious bad actors blind us to the good work many NFT collections are doing– even if it's just bringing a community of like-minded crypto-savvy people together.