Woah, this is a heavy topic for this time of day (any time of day, in fact). Cryptocurrency can get you killed, whaaaat? Or can it? That’s what we are going to find out in this piece, as we look at whether being a trader, investor, cyber-criminal or developer in the crypto-world can actually put your life at risk. Perhaps you could even just get caught up in the rush…
It’s wild that we are even writing this – crypto was meant to make lives better, not shorter.
Cases of theft and murder
Let’s start with a few stories of people getting killed for showing off their crypto, because, let’s face it, this is going to be the most common reason that puts people in the firing line. Thieves, kidnappers, ransom-makers, they’re going to want to take the digital assets from the rich and try to sneak them away over the interwebs.
When a Bitcoin trade went wrong in Oslo, Norway, one man was found stabbed to death. His friends were already concerned about his dealings in the crypto world and it’s likely that many of the real facts from this story have been kept under wraps. Another story from Oslo tells of a very wealthy crypto expert who opened his front door to a sawn-off shotgun and the demands to hand over his Bitcoin. Instead, he ran and jumped from his balcony. Fortunately, he lived on the second floor and survived to tell the tale.
In Kerala, India, a man was tortured to death by his colleagues for running a Bitcoin scam worth as much as £7m. His scam was more or less a pyramid scheme, collecting money from investors, using that money to hire more salesmen-slash-collectors, and watching the BTC stack up. The business failed when he claimed his account had been hacked and the money and crypto were gone. This chilling quote explains what happened next: “The accused tortured him so much to retrieve the password that Shakoor died. Because crores of money would be lost with his death, the men took him to a hospital, hoping for a miracle. However, since that hospital declared him dead, they took him to another hospital, where they received the same response. So, they abandoned the body in the car and fled the hospital,”
Where’s the next most dangerous place to be, other than out in the real world? It’s probably a war zone, and next, it’s going to be a prison. So, we ask, can cryptocurrency land you in prison? Since two out of the top three most dangerous prisons in the world are in Russia, and Russia has made cryptocurrencies strictly illegal, let’s start there.
The first prison, Black Dolphin Prison, where prisoners cannot sit or rest during the day, are often blindfolded, and are moved around in stress positions, is a place you really wouldn’t want to end up. Petak Island prison is designed for the nastiest of offenders, especially the cannibals and murderers. We can’t confirm whether crypto-traders in Russia would end up in either of these prisons, but if this is the standard of Russian punishment, it might just be the incentive that they need to find other online activities.
The alternative to the ultra-harsh 7-year prison sentence is a fine of 2m rubles, which is actually a very reasonable £20,000. We know which one we would be choosing, however, all crypto assets will be seized by the government, so that £20k has to come out of your bank.
Tech-savvy Russians are calling this anti-crypto stance the ‘Digital Iron Curtain’, but they aren’t saying it too loudly for fear of repercussions.
Crypto-scams can get you murdered
We mentioned before about the Indian scammer who was murdered by people he knew for his local Bitcoin scam. The next story takes it up to a whole new level, as these guys were part of the OneCoin exit scam that was worth $4 billion. They weren’t the owners of OneCoin and we aren’t sure how much they personally profited from the scam, but either way, they wound up murdered as a result.
Chilean Oscar Brito Ibarra and Argentine Ignacio Ibarra were kidnapped and killed in Mexico just a few weeks ago in July 2020. The two men were suffocated to death and stuffed into suitcases, after which they turned up in a vacant parking lot. Nobody deserves this kind of ending, and despite it being common knowledge that the two were professional criminals who knew OneCoin was a scam and looked to profit from it, they should really have faced a legal trial. The authorities suspect that the men were using their crypto expertise to help the cartels to launder money, but something along the way went very wrong…
The curious case of Gerald Cotten
We’ve mentioned Gerald before, and when it comes to anything suspicious, mysterious, or death-related in crypto, the conversation almost always invariably lands with his name on people’s lips. Cotten, the founder of Quadriga, had around $250 million worth of crypto and was looking forward to a very affluent life. Whilst on his honeymoon in India, he suddenly died, his body was not photographed and it was quickly rushed away from a closed-casket funeral in Canada before being buried.
When Cotten died, his passwords, private keys, and so much more all went with him. Now, they say that you should live a generous life because you can’t take money with you when you die, but Cotten is the most miraculous of exceptions to this rule, because he actually did manage to take his money with him. $137 million worth of cryptocurrencies were taken from his accounts (as well as 14 alias accounts potentially used by Cotten) and vanished without a trace, 8 months before he ‘died’. We don’t want to fuel any conspiracy theories here, but with that kind of money and time, faking your own death would be pretty manageable with the right people helping.
This story is an absolute epic, so don’t be surprised to see it turned into a Hollywood movie one day.
Death threats for speaking out against scammers?
Another thing that can reportedly get you killed, or at least threatened, is by being transparent and raising red flags about the illegalities that go on in the crypto-underworld (if such a thing exists). Jen McAdam, a Glaswegian Investment Manager found herself facing numerous death threats after speaking out about her feelings on the OneCoin scam (the same one that left the two guys in Mexico dead). Jen put in £8,000 of her own money and raised £220,000 from friends and family (UK investors lost a total of £96m) before buying OneCoin packages, only to realise she would not be able to get her investment back (as is typical with scams). After speaking out on the Cryptoqueen podcast on the BBC, she reveals she received torrents of sexual and life-threatening abuse which she felt was coordinated by OneCoin supporters.
Journalist murdered on ‘Blockchain island’
Daphne Galizia was a prominent investigative journalist in Malta, a country sometimes known as Blockchain Island for its massive governmental support towards cryptocurrencies. At the time of her murder, she was being sued by 48 different parties and individuals for libel, but it didn’t deter her from seeking the truth. She was in the process of investigating the rise of Bitcoin and the Blockchain in Malta and raised very major concerns, as she stated below.
“Malta is set to become the bitcoin money-laundering capital of this part of the world – and that the preparations are already being made for it. And that whoever has a vested interest in the heightened use of cryptocurrencies is already [funneling] money into the Labour Party and a couple of Panama companies, and calling the shots.”
Maltese businessman Yorgen Fenech was charged with complicity in her murder, being deemed responsible for orchestrating the car bombing that killed her in November 2019. It is not confirmed whether her investigation into crypto was linked to her death, but some say her attacks on the establishment and investigative work into Panama-based businesses with ties to Malta, some of which involved crypto, made her a target to the powerful.
Paying a ransom in crypto
Being held hostage is about as close as it comes to being killed, because your life is literally hanging by a thread and your future is dependent on someone sorting out the payment for you. When it comes to sending a crypto-ransom, private keys and passwords make it much more complicated, but not impossible, as was the case in Norway (again?).
In October 2018, Norweigan multimillionaire Tom Hagen reported to the police that his wife was kidnapped and he had received a ransom note for $10m worth of Monero. In April of 2020, Tom was arrested for his wife’s murder, with police believing that the ransom note was simply a ruse to divert their focus away from him. He was never charged but remains under investigation, whilst his wife’s remains have not been found.
Be careful out there!