The Appreciation series features popular podcasts, shows, books and other content relevant to financial markets, scams and investing, reviewed by FMA staff members.
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Trust No One: The Hunt for the Crypto King
- Documentary, Netflix, March 2022
Imagine putting your entire life savings into crypto and seeing it disappear overnight. For Canadian software engineer Tong Zou, he says it felt like he was having a heart attack.
Zou is one of several victims featured in Trust No One: The Hunt for the Crypto King, a documentary-slash-true crime-mystery streaming on Netflix about ‘QuadrigaCX’, Canada’s once largest cryptocurrency exchange that suddenly shut down, leaving tens of thousands of users out of pocket and unable to access their funds.
As is often the case with start-ups, the story of QuadrigaCX begins with its founder, Gerald W. Cotten – a nerdy Canadian and a seemingly all-round nice guy. Cotten was a crypto success story, who channelled his enthusiasm for decentralisation into building a well-reputed business.
QuadrigaCX soared in popularity thanks to the crypto boom of 2017 as more people were looking to buy and sell cryptocurrencies. It was a matter of being at the right place, at the right time and Gerald accumulated all the trappings to show for his success including a yacht, plane, various properties and even a private island.
The problems started when the value of Bitcoin nose-dived after its peak at the start of 2018. Around the same time, Zou had sold his apartment in San Francisco and was looking to move to Canada. He was looking for a way to transfer his US dollars to his Canadian account while avoiding bank charges and turned to QuadrigaCX. Zou submitted a request to withdraw funds from Quadriga and waited. But he never ended up getting his money.
Zou was one of thousands of users who were locked out of their accounts during this time. Adding to the peculiarity of the situation was the announcement of Cotten’s death on 14 January 2018, a month following his actual death in India due to Crohn’s disease. Shortly after, the exchange stopped working entirely and QuadrigaCX revealed that no-one had access to the site besides Cotten, suggesting the lack of a dead man’s switch.
The documentary switches gears into an investigation surrounding Cotten’s mysterious death. The circumstances make for a perfect recipe for conspiracy theories to run amok. Did Cotten really die from a bowel condition? Or did he fake his own death to flee with QuadrigaCX users’ money? While there’s a lack of concrete answers, what does emerge is that Cotten may not have been such a nice guy after all.
As the title of the show suggests, investors need to be vigilant in the cryptocurrency space. The FMA considers cryptocurrency to be volatile and high risk. We recommend investors undertake thorough research before trusting a crypto exchange with your money – even ones that look legitimate. Use a New Zealand-based trading platform as this offers a minimum level of protection.
Remember, crypto trading platforms and the people who use them are often the targets of hacking, online fraud and scams. Find out more about cryptocurrencies.
Trust No One: The Hunt for the Crypto King is a great watch, not just for crypto enthusiasts but anyone who enjoys true crime documentaries.