NFT scams, toxic ‘mines’ and lost life savings: the cryptocurrency dream is fading fast | David A Banks

Cryptocurrencies, according to their most ardent supporters, are supposed to supplant nations’ existing currencies and end central banks’ control over the money supply. Instead, individuals will be able to trade with each other in a decentralised, digital financial ecosystem. This is a good thing, they promise, because unlike states and their central banks, technology is incorruptible. Crypto-evangelists imagine technology as a replacement for social and political institutions.

But technology never replaces social and political behaviour; it merely alters the rules and norms we follow. To see this in action, one need only look at the plummeting value of Terra Luna, a crypto token that crashed by 98% in a day, causing some investors to lose their life savings; the plunging value of Bitcoin and Ethereum; or the countless scam victims whose non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have been stolen. NFTs use the same blockchain technology as cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, to trade algorithmically generated illustrations that riff on a theme. On offer are cartoony Bored Apes, Lazy Lions and “CryptoDickButts”. Although NFTs are aesthetically uninspiring, they can sell for as much as $91.8m and as they have grown in value, scams involving stolen NFTs have abounded. Just last month the Bored Ape Yacht Club’s Instagram account was hacked, and the perpetrators stole about $3m worth of NFTs by directing followers to a fraudulent site.

When a scammer steals a CryptoDickButt, all the ecstatic manifestos about the decentralised power of the blockchain disappear, as scam victims plead with the handful of crypto exchanges to block the sale of their stolen NFT. The underlying technology and its tokens might be decentralised (and even that claim is questionable, given that cryptomarkets are wildly concentrated in the hands of a few hundred people), but where you can actually buy, use and sell these things is still limited to a few services and exchanges. This forces crypto fans…


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