Within the realm of cryptocurrencies, a concerning practice has emerged that threatens the integrity of the market: wash trading. This deceptive maneuver involves creating artificial trading activity to manipulate perceptions of market demand and liquidity. In this article, we delve into the mechanics, motivations, and consequences of wash trading in crypto space. By understanding this phenomenon, readers can navigate the implications it poses and make informed decisions in an increasingly complex market. Join us as we unmask wash trading and its impact on cryptocurrencies.

What Is Wash Trading?

Wash trading is a deceptive practice that involves artificially creating trading activity to give the appearance of genuine market demand and liquidity. It occurs when an individual or a group of individuals simultaneously buy and sell the same asset, creating the illusion of transactions taking place. However, in reality, no true change in ownership or value occurs.

The primary purpose of wash trading is to manipulate the perception of market activity, attract new investors, and potentially inflate the price of a particular asset. By creating the impression of high trading volumes and liquidity, wash traders aim to generate excitement and attract unsuspecting traders who may perceive the market as active and promising.

Wash trading can take various forms, including individuals trading with themselves, colluding with others to carry out coordinated trades, or utilizing multiple accounts to simulate trading activity. While wash trading is not unique to the cryptocurrency market and has been observed in other financial markets, its prevalence in the crypto space has raised concerns about market transparency and fairness.

Regulatory authorities and exchanges are actively working to combat wash trading by implementing stricter surveillance mechanisms, enforcing penalties for fraudulent activities, and enhancing transparency through improved reporting and surveillance technologies. Understanding the mechanics of wash trading is crucial for investors to make informed decisions and contribute to the development of a more transparent and trustworthy cryptocurrency market. 

How Does Wash Trading Work? 

Wash trading involves the creation of artificial trading activity to manipulate market perceptions. Here’s how it typically works:

  1. Multiple Accounts or Participants: Wash trading often requires multiple accounts or participants who collaborate to execute the trades. These participants can be individuals, organized groups, or even automated bots.
  2. Simultaneous Buying and Selling: The wash traders place buy and sell orders for the same asset simultaneously. For example, one account may place a buy order for a certain quantity of a cryptocurrency, while another account controlled by the same entity places a sell order for the same quantity at a similar price.
  3. No Change in Ownership: The primary objective of wash trading is to create the illusion of market activity without any actual change in ownership. The bought and sold orders essentially cancel each other out, resulting in no net effect on the trader’s position or the market as a whole.
  4. Fictitious Trading Volumes: By repeatedly executing such wash trades, the traders can generate significant trading volumes, giving the impression of high market activity. This can mislead other market participants into believing that there is genuine demand and liquidity for the asset.
  5. False Market Signals: The inflated trading volumes resulting from wash trading can create false market signals, misleading traders who rely on volume indicators for making trading decisions. It can lead to misinformed buying or selling decisions based on fabricated market trends.
  6. Manipulation of Prices: In addition to misleading trading volumes, wash trading can potentially manipulate prices. By executing coordinated wash trades at specific price points, the traders can create artificial price movements, enticing other traders to follow suit and drive the price in a desired direction.
screenshot 2022 07 11 at 10 36 27 media library original 1666 1548 1024x951 - Shedding Light on Wash Trading in the Cryptocurrency Market
The sharp increase in trading volume. Source: TradingView

Wash trading is a prohibited practice in regulated financial markets due to its manipulative nature. While the cryptocurrency market is less regulated, efforts are being made by exchanges, regulators, and blockchain analytics firms to detect and deter wash trading activities to ensure fair and transparent market conditions.

Let’s consider a hypothetical scenario involving two individuals, Alice and Bob, who want to engage in wash trading with a particular cryptocurrency, “CryptoCoin X.”

  1. Alice and Bob each have two trading accounts on a cryptocurrency exchange.
  2. Account A1 belongs to Alice, and Account B1 belongs to Bob. Similarly, Account A2 belongs to Alice, and Account B2 belongs to Bob.
  3. Alice and Bob coordinate their activities to execute a wash trade:
    • Alice places a buy order for 100 units of CryptoCoin X on Account A1 at a price of $10 per unit.
    • Simultaneously, Bob places a sell order for 100 units of CryptoCoin X on Account B1 at the same price of $10 per unit.
  4. The buy order from Alice on Account A1 and the sell order from Bob on Account B1 get matched, resulting in a transaction. However, since Alice and Bob are coordinating the trades, no actual change in ownership occurs.
  5. To maintain the illusion of market activity, Alice and Bob repeat the process:
    • Alice places a sell order for 100 units of CryptoCoin X on Account A2 at $10 per unit.
    • Bob places a buy order for 100 units of CryptoCoin X on Account B2 at the same price.
  6. Again, the sell order from Alice on Account A2 and the buy order from Bob on Account B2 get matched, but no real ownership transfer takes place.
  7. This cycle of coordinated buy and sell orders continues, creating the appearance of substantial trading activity and volume in CryptoCoin X.
  8. As a result, the trading volumes for CryptoCoin X on the exchange increase, potentially attracting other traders who perceive high market activity and liquidity.
  9. The wash traders may also manipulate prices by executing trades at specific price points. For example, Alice and Bob might agree to execute their orders at slightly different prices, creating artificial price movements that could mislead other traders into following the trend.

By engaging in this wash trading scheme, Alice and Bob deceive other market participants into believing there is genuine demand and liquidity for CryptoCoin X. This can lead to misinformed trading decisions and distort the market’s overall perception.

Wash Trading vs. Market Making: The Differences

Wash trading and market making are two distinct practices in the financial markets, serving different purposes. Here are the key differences between wash trading and market making:

Wash Trading:

  • Purpose: Wash trading is a deceptive practice aimed at manipulating market activity and creating false impressions of demand and liquidity.
  • Intent: The intention behind wash trading is to deceive market participants, attract new investors, and potentially inflate the price of an asset.
  • Mechanics: Wash trading involves executing simultaneous buy and sell orders for the same asset without any actual change in ownership. It creates artificial trading activity and volumes while maintaining the trader’s position.
  • Legality: Wash trading is generally considered illegal and is prohibited in regulated financial markets, including cryptocurrencies.
  • Consequences: Wash trading undermines market integrity, distorts price discovery, and misleads other traders. It can result in unfair advantages for the wash traders and harm market participants who make decisions based on false information.

Market Making:

  • Purpose: Market making is a legitimate practice that aims to enhance market liquidity and facilitate smooth trading by providing continuous bid and ask prices.
  • Intent: Market makers intend to profit from the spread between the bid and ask prices. They act as intermediaries, buying and selling assets to provide liquidity and ensure that there are always willing buyers and sellers in the market.
  • Mechanics: Market makers actively participate in the market by placing both buy and sell orders for a particular asset. They continuously adjust their bid and ask prices to accommodate changing market conditions.
  • Legality: Market making is a legal and regulated activity, subject to specific rules and regulations that vary across jurisdictions.
  • Consequences: Market making contributes to market efficiency, reduces bid-ask spreads, and enhances overall liquidity. It provides traders with the ability to buy or sell assets promptly and at competitive prices.

While both wash trading and market making involve executing trades, their motivations, mechanics, and implications are vastly different. Wash trading is a manipulative and deceptive practice that undermines market fairness, while market making plays a crucial role in promoting liquidity and facilitating efficient trading.

How to Avoid Being in a Wash Trade?

To avoid being involved in a wash trade and maintain ethical trading practices, consider the following steps:

  1. Choose Reputable Exchanges: Trade on reputable and regulated cryptocurrency exchanges that have robust compliance measures in place. Ensure that the exchange you use adheres to anti-manipulation policies and actively works to detect and prevent wash trading.
  2. Conduct Due Diligence: Before trading an asset, conduct thorough research on its fundamentals, market conditions, and historical trading patterns. This will help you make informed decisions based on genuine market factors rather than being influenced by artificial trading activities.
  3. Analyze Trading Volume and Depth: Scrutinize trading volumes and order book depth on the exchange. If a particular asset shows unusually high trading volumes without corresponding liquidity or depth, it could be a red flag for potential wash trading. Consider using analytical tools or platforms that provide reliable data and analysis to evaluate trading activity.
  4. Look for Diverse Market Participation: Genuine market activity involves participation from a diverse range of traders and investors. Monitor the trading activities of different accounts and assess if there is a high concentration of trading activity from a few accounts or entities. Excessive concentration may indicate potential wash trading.
  5. Utilize Multiple Exchanges and Data Sources: Cross-reference trading data and information from multiple exchanges and reliable data sources. By comparing trading data from different platforms, you can validate and verify the authenticity of the market activity.
  6. Be Skeptical of Abnormally High Returns: Exercise caution when encountering assets or traders promising unusually high returns or guaranteed profits. Such claims may be associated with fraudulent activities, including wash trading schemes.
  7. Report Suspicious Activity: If you suspect wash trading or any other manipulative practices, report the suspicious activity to the relevant exchange or regulatory authority. Providing information and cooperating with authorities can contribute to maintaining a fair and transparent market environment.

By staying informed, conducting thorough research, and exercising caution, you can reduce the risk of being involved in a wash trade and contribute to a more transparent and trustworthy cryptocurrency market.


As an investor or trader, it is important to understand the mechanics and implications of wash trading and to avoid engaging in such practices. Choose reputable exchanges, conduct due diligence, analyze trading volumes and depth, diversify your data sources, and be skeptical of abnormally high returns. By staying informed, vigilant, and adhering to ethical trading practices, you can protect yourself and contribute to a more transparent and trustworthy market environment.


What is wash trading?

Wash trading is a process whereby a trader buys and sells a crypto artificially creating trading activity to give the appearance of genuine market demand and liquidity.

How do you avoid wash trading in crypto?

Choose reputable exchanges, conduct due diligence, analyze trading volumes and depth, diversify your data sources, and be skeptical of abnormally high returns.