How an NFT scammer spoofed a cancer charity to raise $117,000
The NFT community is reeling from what can only be described as a punch to the collective gut on May 30.
After a consistent decline in NFT art sales volume in recent months – followed by the sudden, insane surge of highly speculative cryptomemecoins and Web3 figureheads asking their followers to send them money for no reason (and succeed) – both artists and collectors felt particularly sour on Web3.
So it was welcome news when well-known NFT influences Andrew Wang tweeted the following to his audience of nearly 200,000 on May 30: “I woke up today to see one of my friends trending on Twitter, @hopeexist1,” Wang wrote. “She made a collection to help herself in her fight against cancer, and some amazing Web3 people spotlighted her today, so I’d like to add to that.”
Wang was referring to a Chinese pixel artist named Sarah. Known as hopeexist on Web3 Twitter, her work has been collected by some of the biggest names in the space, including Drift. Sarah had been battling cancer of the lacrimal gland, a disease that affects the eyes. To help raise money to cover medical bills, she set up a 10K PFP NFT collection called Pixel Penguins in February 2023. With Wang and others attract attention for the collection, Pixel Penguins were quickly developed.
Within hours, $117,000 disappeared, along with Sarah’s Twitter profile, and the funds moved out of the project’s contract and into new blockchain addresses. It was a rye-pull scam – and one of the longest running cons in Web3 history.
How hopeexist played the long game
Fraud is nothing new to Web3. Project founders pull the rug out from their communities all the time, and bad actors keep finding ways to separate unsuspecting NFT lovers from their art or crypto tokens. What makes hopeexist’s scam unique is how the person behind the account, whoever they really are, built a level of communication and trust with some of the world’s most experienced veterans before executing their plan.
Wang, for example, had been in contact with hopeexist for much of 2022, and the scammer had established a connection with him by commenting on his Twitter posts in a supposed attempt to draw attention to their art. While promoting Pixel Penguins this week, Wang even explicitly called attention to the fact that hopeexist’s collection was not a scam and that he had “set [his] rep on the line” by doing so.
the artist’s name is @Hopeexist1 and I started collecting her 1/1 pixel art about half a year ago when she posted her work in my replies hoping I would see it. in a room filled with underrated artists who deserve more exposure, she was different, and yet special pic.twitter.com/VhWL68K32h
— andrew wang (@andr3w) 26 December 2022
I will put my rep on the line to say this is real, amidst all the scams in our room. I often talk to her art teacher after she’s been in treatment, and he says she’s the best student he’s ever had, that her talent is too valuable, that she needs to survive. He cares like a father pic.twitter.com/bIgzLNXPaT
— andrew wang (@andr3w) 30 May 2023
But hopeexist’s cancer game is old, dating back to at least 2021, where Web3 collectives promoted their work as a way to raise money for their treatment. When hope faded after the Pixel Penguins coin and it became clear that “Sarah” was not who she said she was, Wang jumped on a Twitter Space to deal with the situation, apologizes for his lack of due diligence and if someone bought into the project because he promoted it.
“I woke up, saw it trending, [and thought], ‘Okay, there’s another chance to do well.’ She is an artist that I collect,” Wang said in response to questions about how much research he did on the artist.
Part of this Twitter Space was devoted to a healthy discussion about how Web3 enthusiasts should go about doing their own research, with some arguing that not many individuals are going to spend more than a few minutes looking through an artist’s social profiles and artwork before they decide. whether they are legitimate or not.
Some have criticized DachshundWizard and Levi, other NFT influencers promoting the project, for not looking into hopeexist’s claims before praising Pixel Penguins. In the fallout from the tapestry, critics have pointed to the fact that the artist had been cried out earlier for shady behavior, after listing stolen art on their Foundation site.
This user @Hopeexist1 sells STOLEN ART on their foundation site. DO NOT BUY!
— GooeyCrunch ✊ (@GooeyCrunch) 5 November 2022
Others, even former victims of someone who took advantage of their goodwill, believe so get burned by scammers while you’re trying to support a good cause, there’s no need to have good intentions. This kind of social engineering, they say, is common, and we should empathize with those who want to trust and believe others, especially those in difficult situations.
The mood in the Web3 community has been at a palpable low since news of the tapestry spread, with artists and collectors expressing their annoyance at the fact that even while explicitly trying to counter the toxicity of the space, they were met with more scams. and bad actors. In the same Twitter room where Wang addressed the concerns of followers, Web3 influencers and ambassador for The333Club, Dancing Eddiejust shared this sentiment.
“[The trends we’ve seen are] something that we’re really repulsed by, so repulsed that I’d rather spend money on something I believe in,” Eddie said. “This seemed like a reasonable and fitting hour to believe in. It’s absurd to me that we look for a respite from the absurdity of space and go right back into it.”
Others noted how the increasing frequency and presence of fraud makes it all the more difficult for Web3 evangelists to market the technology to non-crypto natives.
Morally corrupt individuals have passed the timeline. Crypto needs a massive reboot if it is ever to be taken seriously.
— Bharat Krymo (@krybharat) 30 May 2023
What did you most enjoy paying for?
— Mando (@rektmando) 31 May 2023
Is Web3 worth the trouble?
After the carpet is pulled, many are wondering how low Web3 can sink. The common refrain trotted out when the NFT community takes a hit is that there are still good people doing good things in the space, and that overall it’s worth having, despite the difficulties. All clichés are boring in their self-evident truth, but that shouldn’t stop people from sitting with the fact that it’s not all terrible; On the contrary.
For example, Western art aesthetic master Jeremy Booth recently put together an open issue for Emmie Sperandeo, a photographer documenting life in the western United States who suffered multiple skull fractures after being thrown from a horse onto a fence. Priced at 0.011 ETH, 114 issues have been minted with five days left in OE’s run. If you’re one of those people feeling down about the state of Web3 in the hands of scammers, this is one of many good causes to contribute to.
“For Emmie” is now available on @manifoldxyz
All proceeds go directly to support Emmie’s road to recovery. Link below. pic.twitter.com/RF2Ph7CPii
— jeremybooth (@jeremybooth) 30 May 2023
Another fact worth remembering is that strawman fraud is made possible by Web3’s decentralized, pseudonymous nature. Until space engineers somehow have their cake and eat it too, these risks will always be present, and NFT enthusiasts will have to take the good with the bad.
Ultimately, each person in Web3 will have to make their own choice as to whether they believe the crypto and NFT world is still worth inhabiting. Could you benefit from a mental health break? Or even a short break from Web3 altogether? Do what you feel is best and don’t listen to anyone who tries to admonish you for “giving up in the bear only to get back in the bull”.
No one has the right to judge you for how you decide to prioritize taking care of yourself in this chaotic, confusing, and sometimes extremely discouraging Web3 space. It’s not going anywhere – and neither are we.