Zetacoin: Anatomy of a scam The Crypto Community, most people have by now realized, is a community in the same way that the Manson Family was a family. If you find yourself in the company of either, your best move is to walk, briskly, away. The Zetacoin scam, while perhaps not the most famous Crypto scam or the most lucrative for its perpetrators, has certainly been one of the most bizarre examples of this community’s deep dysfunction. If you’ve bothered to give it any attention at all, you’d probably like to know what really happened in Zetacoin. A small group of us tracked the scam over the course of a year and we believe the information we’ve found helps to shed light. We’ve decided that it wouldn’t be fair for us to keep this information to ourselves any longer; all you who have shared with us the misfortune of citizenship in this ramshackle community deserve to know what we know.
What happened? During December 2013, rumors starting flying around the crypto space that supporters of Zetacoin were working on a deal for some form of integration into the existing, widely used Safaricom M-‐Pesa mobile payments platform in East Africa. It was hoped that this deal would drive the coin’s value beyond that of Bitcoin. The rumors snowballed and received public confirmation, of a sort, in April, 2014, when one Konen Saarin (@cmshindi on Twitter), a self-‐described IT security expert and Zetacoin enthusiast from Iceland, claimed to be in Kenya wrapping up technical details of the soon-‐to-‐be-‐announced partnership. Spectacular pumps, followed by loud cries of fraud, accompanied the rumors and assertions. At one point, Zetacoin’s market capitalization approached $15 million. The claims became known as “the ANN,” in reference to the expected official “announcement” from the African partner company. But the ANN never came, and the coin’s support community died a slow, awkward death over the following months, as a slow trickle of more information and explicit denials from Safaricom and other East African companies led inexorably to a loss of hope for those who had believed the claims. By December 2014, Twitter accounts that had long acted as mouthpieces for the coin had fallen silent, and many acknowledged that “Konen” was a fiction and the ANN a lie, though not their own lie of course.
(https://www.island.is/mannanofn). This choice of name, one imagines, would have been one of the first decisions our chef made. Unfortunately for him, the type of shoddy research that would lead someone to choose a manifestly impossible false identity was all too characteristic of what was to come. When some Zetacoin supporters were confronted with this information during Spring and Summer 2014, they began to acknowledge that Konen Saarin was not, in fact, the person’s real name, but rather a pseudonym (like Satoshi Nakamoto, they said). The real identity of Konen Saarin, they claimed, was unknowable because he was such a skilled security expert that he would have taken bulletproof steps to protect his anonymity. As we shall see, his poor stewardship over data, among other inconsistencies, calls this last point into serious question. The tune changed again in December 2014, however, for reasons which we believe will become clear later in this report. At that time, longtime supporters of Zetacoin who had previously described themselves as part of the “inner circle,” made a startling new claim: they said that Konen Saarin was, in fact, a person previously known Oh, I see. Thanks. to the Crypto community only by another pseudonym, his Twitter handle: @tconspiracychef. @tconspiracychef had an established presence as “The Conspiracy Chef” on several social media sites, such as Youtube, Facebook, and a 2012 eponymous blog to which he had frequently linked during the early months of his Twitter account’s existence. The above 25 December, 2014 tweet from @cryptodarock was not the first time it had been suggested that “Chef” might actually be Konen, although it is striking that he describes Konen’s identity as Chef as having been the “main point” of a conversation he says he had with Zetacoin insiders. But speculation to that effect had been floating in the cryptosphere since at least April 2014, when Chef had played a dominant role in handling public relations on Konen’s behalf, most notably in interacting with the established Fast Company and Vice journalist Jay Cassano, who had heard the ANN rumors and begun digging around independently. During a three-‐way conversation between Cassano, Chef and Konen, it was rumored that Cassano had, based on information known only to him, accused Chef and Konen of
being the same person. Many web services provide comprehensive Twitter analytics. Using some of these services, we have analyzed the times that @tconspiracychef and @cmshindi tweeted their many thousands of tweets over a period of years. It is plain from these tweets that, although “Konen” supposedly moved between Iceland, Germany, South Korea, and East Africa, his tweeting was consistently done during the exact same hours as Australian @tconspiracychef. For our part, while we find these coincidences noteworthy and have long found @cryptodarock’s tweets to be highly revealing, we believe the best indicators and the most interesting information only starts to become apparent when one asks a different question.
Who is The Conspiracy Chef? Chef was an unusually active member of the Zetacoin community who left numerous clues to his real-‐world identity in his many communications. These communications included Skype audio and text conversations, emails, Threema chats, Wickr chats, Google chats, Google docs, Slack chats, tweets, DMs, Facebook postings, blog postings, videos, artwork contributed to Zetacoin and other projects, and more.
Chef sometimes spoke in a way that seemed to hint at a surprising sense of ownership of the whole project. Some of you may remember an odd episode in May, 2014, when a group of Zetacoin insiders were accused of attempting to manipulate (depress via manufactured FUD) the price of Zetacoin for personal gain. Chef tweeted a series of angry tweets at one of the participants. The authors of this report were surprised This town ain’t big enough. that Chef’s anger and ridicule seemed rooted not so much in the notion that a coin that he supposedly believed had legitimate projects in Africa was being manipulated in such a manner, but in a personal violation of trust and the fact that the actor in the scheme deigned to see himself as a “master of cunning stunts.” Was Chef bothered by the cunning stunt, or by the failure of this person to recognize that there could be only one master of cunning stunts? The authors of this report have had the chance to review much of Chef’s output and the following facts are well established in his statements made across a variety of platforms: 1. Chef is Australian and resides somewhere in Greater Sydney 2. Chef is a graphic designer and illustrator, with a professional history in media and publications spanning approximately 20 years
3. 4. 5. 6.
Chef has a strong connection to and interest in Thailand Chef tells people that his name is Max Some of Chef’s writings suggest religious belief and possible Christian affiliation Chef has some clear interests, which he discusses frequently, including Max Keiser and conspiracy theories.
To be sure, some of the above interests are shared with a broad swathe of people in the Crypto community. Though a few of the factors seem to narrow down the possibilities (most people aren’t church-‐going graphic designers from Sydney who use the name Max), they didn’t at first point to a definitive identity. The Zetacoin blockchain might provide some clues, but none that offer absolute confidence. As far as the authors of this report are aware, Chef was the only Zetacoiner to openly state his location as being Sydney, Australia. Over the course of several months, we recorded two Sydney IP addresses that appeared in the Zetacoin blockchain: 188.8.131.52, which geolocates to Greater Sydney, A rooster, a moon, some symbols. and 184.108.40.206, which, intriguingly, geolocates to a specific Sydney suburb, Ryde. Intriguing, but inconclusive. But then Chef made another in the series of mistakes that would come to characterize the Zetacoin scam. In June 2014, he designed and emailed to several other Zetacoin supporters a new logo for the coin. Visually, the logo is an odd mash-‐up of a government-‐style seal, the usual Crypto rocket and moon symbolism, and a fierce-‐looking rooster. The fact that the rooster’s head appears to be hand-‐drawn and the apparent facility with graphic design are of some interest, as is the fact that an avowed conspiracy theorist with apparently deep resentment for existing authority structures chose to model his logo after the supposedly cryptic imagery used by “The Powers That Be.” But what is truly fascinating is something that Chef apparently did not know his image contained: metadata. The file that Chef had sent to the other Zetacoiners, some of Oops. whom had contributed many hours of actual work to building web sites for the coin, was a .psd file, created in Photoshop. One of those who received the file directly from Chef, and who had been working in evident sincerity to build the coin’s value in legitimate ways, eventually became disillusioned with the unending delays in the ANN. He started looking for clues and he found a name buried in the metadata of the file, showing who had originally created the file. The name was Samuel Young.
Suddenly, thanks to his own oversights and weak data security, the possibility of identifying who The Conspiracy Chef was in real life became much more real. Instead of looking for anyone who met the criteria listed above, the authors of this report were now able to focus their efforts on looking for people named Samuel Young who met the criteria.
Who is Samuel Young? As it happens, we were able to find just one person who had that name and met the above and other known criteria. If you’d like to read a bit about him, information is not hard to find (https://www.lambiek.net/artists/y/young_samuel. htm). For the sake of being concise, here are just a few of the ways that the Samuel Young we found matches known facts about Chef: 1. Young is Australian and resides in Greater Sydney 2. Young is a graphic designer and illustrator, with a professional history in media and publications spanning approximately 20 years 3. Young was born in Thailand and emigrated at age 3 4. Young sometimes uses the name Max 5. Parts of Young’s profile suggest religious belief and possible Christian affiliation 6. Young has some clear interests, which he discusses frequently, including Max Keiser and conspiracy theories. As with the Chef identity, Samuel Young appears to have maintained a prolific Web presence, with assorted social media, forum and blog postings. He’s used a variety of pseudonyms or nicknames, including Max, Max Autohead, Autohead, Sam Some YouTube Channel subscriptions. Nothing if not consistent. Autohead, MaxSammy, Samuel, Sam and Sammy. Under the Max Autohead pseudonym, he published a series of Australian comic books in the 1990s, ending in a strange episode still discussed among Aussie comic book aficionados that involved a massive unfinished project, ever-‐slipping deadlines, screwed-‐
The Conspiracy Chef and Sammy Young Facebook pages were locked or removed altogether from Facebook. These actions were taken despite the authors never having contacted Sammy via any of his publicly acknowledged online personae, social media accounts, or known email addresses. To our knowledge, neither Zetacoin nor anything associated with it was ever mentioned to these accounts. If Sammy closed his Facebook account in response to the suggestions that he was The Conspiracy Chef, it appears the nature of those suggestions could only have come to his attention in the first place through contacts with his The Conspiracy Chef identity. The panic behind such actions strikes us as another in the series of mistakes made by this person. For reference, although the Facebook page itself was deleted in November, an abbreviated mirror with limited information on profileengine.com remains up (http://profileengine.com/people/32759270/sammy.young).
Who was Failcoin? We mentioned above that both “Konen” and Chef, despite supposedly being on different continents, consistently both tweeted and fell silent at the same times of day. We also mentioned our belief that the “chef de cuisine” cooked up the scam in such a way that blame would fall on someone else. What we haven’t mentioned so far is a series of curious communications with and observations about the Twitter user known as @failcoin, with whose work many in Crypto are no doubt familiar. Many are also aware that the Twitter user known as @max_s_dolphin worked very closely with Failcoin over a period of several months to expose the past dealings of Joe Henderson, who went by the Twitter handle @bitcoinsachs. In working with Failcoin, Max Dolphin was struck by his Trickle dump, eh? apparently contradictory insistence both that the Zetacoin Africa project was real, and that one of its most prominent spokespersons, Joe, was a fraud. Max Dolphin made a point of saving and cataloguing his communications with Failcoin. Some trends were observed: 1. Failcoin’s tweets were fewer in number, but still enough to perform similar analysis as for Chef and Konen. His tweet times suggest that he was in the same time zone as Chef and Konen.
What does it all mean? There is a certain tendency among authors, at this point in a scam write-‐up, to fall back on cliché: the perpetrator is sick and pathetic, the shills are victims too. The entire story of Zetacoin is riddled with absurdity, and any attempt to “wrap it up” in a meaningful way seems doomed. Nevertheless … The perpetrator does indeed appear to be sick and pathetic and the shills do indeed appear to be victims, albeit not innocent ones. The Chef of our conspiracy was prolific in every way. He produced thousands of tweets, images, videos, and other materials using multiple false personae. It is not possible to see him as stupid or talentless. Much of his work was skillful and his intelligence is evident in both his individual projects and in the overall structure of the scam. He appears to have thought through – or at least about – everything, from how to make the core scam claims fit real-‐world developments, to how to secure influence among critics as well as supporters, to how to ensure that blame for the inevitable crash would not fall at his own feet. Yet talent and intelligence are not all that is evident. What is also evident is sloppiness and a gratuitous, often counterproductive joy in attacking others. In private DMs as Chef and Konen, in his sneering output as Failcoin, it becomes clear that it was important, essential perhaps, to this person that he be the one in the position to laugh at everyone else. Many mistakes were made, most too small to mention in this report, in the course of these efforts to laugh. His abundant output includes numerous examples of him making statements that he elsewhere shows he knew to be false, or statements that betray emotions one would expect only of a scammer. This is nowhere more apparent than in the particular glee he seemed to derive from humiliating and lampooning his closest lieutenants. In fact, there is so much effort put into the laughing at people and the hating of people, yet so little effort put into safeguarding against unforced errors and inconsistencies, that one cannot help but come away with the impression that it was actually the opportunity to hate and ridicule, far more than the opportunity to succeed or accumulate wealth, that mattered to this person. It suggests a person for whom life is an unending power struggle, a Sisyphean slog of challenging every authority structure while seeking to erect new ones that exalt his singular self, if only temporarily. It looks exhausting from the outside, and impossible. Looked at this way, one cannot help but pity a person trapped in such a binary consciousness, for whom every social interaction is either a triumphant expression of will to power, or a crushing failure. There seems little doubt that the Zetacoin endeavor, in the final analysis, is one of the latter sort.