Lawyers representing SafeMoon and its executives did not respond to a request for comment. Representatives of Jake Paul did not respond to a request for comment. “Everyone hears all the time about how crypto is changing the world for the better. And there's not a lot of talking about how people at the bottom are being exploited for the worse. I’m by no means anti-crypto, but I am anti-scams and there’s a lot of scams in crypto,” Coffeezilla told Motherboard in an interview. “It's the wild wild west out there. And the regulators are just a little slow to catch up right now. So the crypto community has to figure out how to self monitor.”Coffeezilla is not the only one doing this kind of work. Motherboard spoke to seven people who have become important parts of the web3 ecosystem as independent investigators—some call them “vigilantes”—who expose scammers and track down hackers in an attempt to both call them out and alert potential investors to stay away from them, often from behind pseudonymous identities. In the last year, there’s been an explosion of interest in traditional cryptocurrency and newer products like NFTs and DeFi projects built on blockchains. And because of this interest, there has been an explosion of scams and hacks as well. It seems like every other day some collector gets a precious NFT stolen, an anonymous developer runs away with everyone's money, or a crypto project gets hacked losing millions of dollars.
“It's the wild wild west out there. […] So the crypto community has to figure out how to self monitor.”
In January, he revealed that one of the co-founders of the popular Avalanche-based Wonderland DeFi (or decentralized finance) protocol and its TIME token was Michael Patryn. In 2013, Patryn co-founded QuadrigaCX, a popular Canadian cryptocurrency exchange that went bankrupt in 2019 under mysterious circumstances after the other founder, Gerald Cotten, died and left more than $190 million CAD allegedly locked away forever. Investigators later determined that QuadrigaCX was operating as a fraud and a "Ponzi" under Cotten. In the past, and separately from QuadrigaCX, Patryn has been accused of being a serial scammer and convicted of computer fraud, bank and credit fraud, and other crimes, as Bloomberg reported in 2019.
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BlameBootsy is another pseudonymous investigator who said he is a teacher and former “sports entertainment guy” who does investigations in his spare time. Some crypto investigators are comfortable using their real names, however. Alessandro Ribeiro initially did investigations as an independent sleuth under the moniker Rug Pull Finder after falling for three different rug pull scams himself, according to his co-founder Nik Horniacek. At the end of February, Ribeiro registered Rug Pull Finder in the UK as an actual company with the goal of “more easily build relationships with federal agencies and technology partners,” Horniacek told Motherboard, adding that they now have a team of 16 people.
“The fact that they need to do this kind of work really underscores how flawed the ‘do your own research’ refrain is among crypto projects.”