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Art by Haejin Park.
Art by Haejin Park.

Crypto’s Town Square Has Become “a Scammer’s Paradise.” Why Isn’t Discord Doing More to Clean It Up?

The crypto industry is losing millions to scams perpetrated on a single platform. An army of vigilante sleuths—and at least one crypto-native competitor—is fighting back.

Art by Haejin Park.
Feb. 11, 2022 1:00 PM PST

Kat Heart’s home was on fire.

It was July 2021 and Heart, a part-time outdoor education instructor, was 3,000 miles away in White Plains, N.Y., teaching children how to forage for food and survive bear encounters. Meanwhile, an electrical flame crawled up the walls of her duplex in Arlington, Wash., collapsing the roof and destroying almost everything she owned. To compound the loss, her home insurance had expired, a fact she learned from her homeowner’s association only after the accident.

Fortunately, Heart, 50, isn’t one to let a cataclysmic event get her down. Describing herself as a “CEO of positivity,” she sells photos she’s taken of rainbows and sunsets and cats nuzzling horses. She’s publishing a children’s book about fairies, and runs an Etsy store offering tarot card readings to help people “vibrate into your highest and best self.” She believes deeply in the power of positive thinking.

Several weeks after the fire, her belief was vindicated when the modern-day equivalent of a winning lottery ticket fell into her lap. Through a giveaway from blockchain company Nametag, Heart was gifted a Bored Ape NFT—the non-fungible token of the stars, which can resell on the secondary market for millions. At the time she received it, Heart estimated that her Ape, a one-eyed simian donning a paperboy cap, was worth at least $35,000, which increased to $80,000 in the following days.

The Ape wasn’t Heart’s first dalliance with NFTs; she had already been “crypto-pilled” in May, when she dropped a few thousand dollars on an NFT from marketing guru Gary Vaynerchuck’s VeeFriends collection. When she won the Bored Ape, she hatched a plan to sell it to pay for her house repairs. Her parents had both passed away years ago, and she regarded her Ape as a sign they were watching out for her—“a gift from heaven.”

Then her plan unraveled in a click. In August, a friend forwarded her a link to a VeeFriends giveaway that had been direct-messaged by a stranger on the chat platform Discord. It seemed legitimate: The URL led to what looked like the project’s official website. As she enrolled in the giveaway, Heart was asked to enter her seed phrase—a sacred and unique collection of random words that grants access to someone’s crypto wallet. “Next thing I know,” Heart told me several months later, “my VeeFriend and Bored Ape and most of my Ethereum was gone.”

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