Friends and allies are essential in Cryptoland. I met mine in March when I joined a WhatsApp thread of enthusiasts that is based in the London suburb of Chingford. Every day, about 200 people in The Crypto Crew, as it’s called, trade tips and offer advice. They serve as a help desk to anyone stymied by the baffling architecture and terminology of the crypto universe. They crow when coins go up and urge patience when they go down.
Before the current downturn, about once a week, someone in the Crew would pipe up with the name of the latest hype coin and a question in the vein of, “Hey, you guys have any thoughts on this one?”
In early May, it was Bonfire. It had recently gone up 700 percent. On the chat, a couple of members swooned. The skeptics were not far behind.
“Does Bonfire have a use case?” a member asked.
“Yeah it sets your money on fire,” quipped another.
Whenever a hype coin is mentioned on the thread, there is a related question: Anyone know how to buy it? I decided to give it a try.
You might imagine that a visit to Cryptoland is all about shiny surfaces and precision, like running around the inside of a Swiss watch. It’s more like a bog where all the roads are unpaved and half the signs are written by lunatics. The websites are mostly slow, buggy and confounding. Nearly every step requires a pause to watch a YouTube tutorial.
As bad, Cryptoland is swarming with scammers. Some are waiting for an errant keystroke so your money can be intercepted, never to be returned. Some make look-alike copies of apps that you need to download, which makes your assets easy to grab. Some produce knockoffs of currencies you want to buy. Dozens of coins are called Bitcoin, for example.
Estimates of losses in Cryptoland are hard to come by, and range from hundreds of millions of dollars to $1 billion a year. Harry Denley, director of security at MyCrypto, a cryptocurrency management company, says that every day between 30 and 50 people get in touch with him, looking for help recovering as little as $500 to as much as $1.2 million. In nearly every case, there’s little he can do.