Behold the World of Crypto-Scammery!

Does anyone miss the comedic days of the world’s biggest influencers preaching about crypto and the digital world, and making suggestions like how it was possible for people to monetize everyday receipts by transforming them into “non-fungible tokens” or how people could create and sell their own “whatever”-coins? What about the ridiculousness of seeing the emergence of overnight experts, all of whom would have been perfectly suited to star in a modern remake of Monty Python?

Listening to all the noise, the only thing that never made sense to me was why the crypto community accepted the NFT acronym, somewhat lame, when all it meant was that it was a unique digital identifier for multimedia projects, and just how easy it became to carry out NFT “rug pull” scams.

Usually, these types of financial crimes never make it beyond one cycle, similar to the handling of Bernie Madoff, with new regulations getting introduced shortly after the conviction, but the world was quick to issue crypto’s death certificate in 2018 and that is what led to the unfettered crypto rug pulls of the early 2020s.

To be clear, NFTs are some sort of digital item, whether that be a digital piece of art, music, perhaps digital clothing for an in-game character or virtual world avatar, a digital emoji, even things connecting to the real world like electronic movie tickets.  Basically, anything you can make digital you could turn into an NFT backed piece.  What the NFT added was the ability to essentially certify that you had the original piece.  And you could then sell or give that original piece to someone else, at which point you wouldn’t have it anymore, because the token itself, the “T” part of the NFT can not be copied.  Of course, that did not stop internet wags from making copies of things that were NFT certified and showing that, for most things, nobody really cared if it had the token showing authenticity or not.

The second coming of all-things crypto took place around the time that COVID-19 reared its ugly face, and less than 5 years since the 2018 crash, after the implosions of crypto exchanges like Canada’s QuadrigaCX, and many other crypto exchanges worldwide. The icing on the ridiculousness cake had to be the social media personalities who made it seem as though they got lucky by getting rare NFT drops and who had countless other rare NFTS, where the odds indicate that these individuals were more likely to win a billion dollars from the PowerBall lottery than they were to “pull” all those rare NFTs.  However, when influencers started running away once crypto started to crash again in 2022, after they had taken part in duping people out of their money, and while crypto currency exchanges were also imploding, policing agencies were quick to swoop in and nab the culprits, and it made its mark on the world of “influencing”.

An NFT drop is when some creator, or company, decides to release a number of NFT items into the digital marketplace.  Many did this as promotional schemes, some made them available for sale immediately, etc, and because of the nature of NFTs, these were the only times you could get legitimate copies of these digital items.

One specific drop that I recall being quite excited about was the Miss Universe NFT drop that turned out to be a rug pull, and possibly the craziest NFT rug pull of crazy NFT rug pulls.  Simply put, there was nothing ladylike about what transpired with Miss Universe’s NFT drop in 2021 and here is more about that story.

The Miss Universe NFT Rug Pull

After Donald Trump bought the faltering brand of Miss Universe in 1996 and managed to turn it into a household staple, his later remarks essentially forced him to buy out the 50% ownership stake of his partner, NBC, after the brand had been damaged by his words.  Subsequently, Trump would go on to sell the franchise, a few days later, to Hollywood titan Ari Emmanuel’s WME-IMG, who would also end up selling the franchise, declaring it a money-losing business, and struggle to find a buyer.  However, it was during WME-IMG’s ownership that the Miss Universe NFT rug pull would occur, carried out by a team of unassuming developers that were contracted to help create the NFT project.

Imagine offering NFT prizes that included partying and hanging out with Miss Universe contestants of past and present, monetary rewards for tens of thousands of dollars, getting special access to future Miss Universe competitions, and much more.  Now, I think it might have been the greatest collection of rewards offered by any NFT project ever and it was one that I had intended to take part in, but thankfully I never got around to it because I would have maxed out my home equity line of credit just to have a chance at winning.

Like most large-scale heists, this crime was an inside job, carried out by unassuming developers that had worked on other prominent NFT projects, and who were contracted out to create the NFT project, since WME-IMG did not have in-house developers.

This team of developers would go on to write code that would help “shopping bots” know the exact moment to buy to win exclusive NFTs, thanks to algorithms that were able to detect “up next” moments.  All of this was made possible thanks to their knowledge of the code that they had written for the generating of the NFTs and because of how transparent things like cryptocurrency and NFTs really are.  What really made this NFT project special was that the drop was going to occur live, during the 2021 Miss Universe competition and before the winner was crowned, and there were prize implications depending on which NFTs you had.

And what should have been a “one-of-a-kind” drop, really turned out to be a ‘one-of-a-kind’ drop, because mouths started to drop once the scam became clear.  All it took was 72 hours for Miss Universe to delete the dedicated social accounts for this NFT project including the Discord group.

Although some online personalities have speculated that WME-IMG may have been in on the rug pull, that is flat-out wrong.  For starters, publicly traded multi-billion-dollar companies do not engage in single-digit million-dollar gains if it means cheating people out of their money and ruining their reputation, nor does it represent a significant sum of money in the grand scheme of things.  Instead, the team of developers who were contracted to do the NFT turned out to be serial hustlers, and they did similar stuff with other big brands and their NFT projects.  Simply put, the world of NFT was so new and so unfamiliar to so many people that this was bound to happen, and nobody realized that celebrities were rigging the odds in their favor by having specifically coded “shopping bots” helping them to get the rarest of NFTs.

These days, you can find people on Twitter offering their “rare” Miss Universe NFTs in exchange for gas money, while others are giving their NFTs away for free because of how much pain the NFT is causing them.  One gentleman on Twitter even exposed himself, saying how he spent 15 Etherum, back when 1 Etherum was about $3000, spending around $45,000 without winning a single rare NFT. Had I bought into that NFT drop, maxing out my home equity line of credit, if I found out that it was rigged by some developers then I would have hunted all of those nerds with a zest equivalent to MacGruber’s zest for the license plate “KFBR392”, and I suspect a phone conversation may have unfolded along the lines Liam Neeson’s phone conversation in the 2008 film Taken.

After revisiting some of the promos for Miss Universe’s NFT project, which included tweets, associations with Marc Cuban and Leverage, mainstream celebrities, and even former Miss Universe contestants, I came across a promo by the late Chelsie Kryst, the former contest turned TV personality and a lawyer by trade.  Although Kryst’s life came to a tragic end in 2022, her life is one that should be celebrated for the good that she managed to do while she was with us.  This included leveraging her business-law background to offer pro bono services to low-level drug offenders and working with the Buried Alive Project, where she helped free a client that was sentenced to life imprisonment.  To sum it up, Chelsie Kryst was special. Quite frankly, I could not help but think that this failed NFT project may have had a negative impact on her and resulted in her receiving threats, and if she had already been struggling with her wellbeing, as most people were during Covid-19, that it may have contributed to pushing her past her breaking point.

Why is everyone so quite about NFTs all the sudden?

For the purpose of this article, I reached out to Miss Universe to follow up on the status of the NFT scam, now under different ownership and with their head office in Thailand, but they did not respond back for comment.  Additionally, when I tried tweeting at their Miss Universe account, my replies to their tweets were hidden and sent to the bottom of their tweet. I tried tweeting at them a few more times before Twitter informed me that I “broke some rules” and had to chill out.

From a techie gamer’s perspective on all of the NFT “hustling-hacking”, I would go as far as to say that I could guarantee that every single NFT drop had the potential for rigging.  What I mean by that is that as long as one of the developers was familiar with the code behind the NFT drop, combined with the fact that there is nothing private about the generating of NFTs, it is entirely possible to create a “shopping bot” that new exact moment to buy to pull an ultra rare NFT.

Every single one of these crypto NFT scam projects could see the developers involved get identified with ease based on crypto wallets being publicly accessible, and once the money is withdrawn from a crypto exchange and transferred into a bank account, policing agencies can swoop in and demand access to those records.  If a crypto exchange’s executive team ever refused to cooperate with policing agencies, it would all but guarantee that the organizers would get charged with being accessories to the fact and complicit in the crime, but that almost never happens because nobody wants to go to jail if they can avoid it.  I would also bet on all those celebrities providing policing agencies with the names of all the “crypto advisors” who promised them that they would get rare NFTs, and that is all it would take to get to the main circle.

The 2013 film Runner Runner has a storyline that is similar to what we have seen occur with NFTs, but the film focuses on the early days of online poker.  The most important lesson from that movie is that when it comes to technology, there is always a back door to everything, and all founders have a “if shit hits the fan” exit strategy, which entails turning on each other if it means avoiding prison.  In Runner Runner, that exit strategy revolved around a USB, which ended up sending Ben Affleck’s character to prison. Now, should there be instances where “hustler-hackers” refuse to turn on one another, remember that what the colt revolver did to the bow and arrow is what policing agencies’ quantum computers will do to hackers, somewhat of a modern-day Robo Cop.