FNArena Book Review: Crypto Wars

Book Reviews | Nov 17 2021

FNArena Book Review: Crypto Wars. Faked Deaths, Missing Billions and Industry Disruption, by Erica Stanford

By Rudi Filapek-Vandyck, Editor

Crypto Wars by UK crypto entrepreneur Erica Stanford is a book for the times; one that simply had to be written and published, for despite the global media's obsession with daily volatility in the prices of bitcoin, ether, dogecoin, cardano and the like there is a dark side to humanity and it has firmly infiltrated the world of online transaction networks and tokens, and other blockchain technology-related utilities.

According to AtlasVPN data, blockchain hackers globally managed to fraudulently siphon off some $1bn in cryptocurrency worth and that was just for the quarter ending on September 31 this year. The Ethereum ecosystem alone lost over $800m while five hack events at cryptocurrency exchanges saw another $114m disappear.

The trend behind these numbers is something to keep an eye on too: AtlasVPN counted no less than 146 hack events during the first nine months of 2021; more than the total for the three years prior.

Stanford's commendable effort digs deeper into the facts and figures behind those numbers, effectively painting a picture of both extremes on opposite sides of today's new blockchain world. In one corner we have millions of naive, gullible and over-trusting citizens (I would not necessarily call them 'investors', though the book does use the label) who are not in the slightest bothered by the absence of any form of regulation or oversight, all too willing to trust their money with whoever claims to represent the online gateway to crypto's unlimited wealth potential (everybody else seems to be making money hand over fist).

On the other side we find an army of cunning marketers and snake oil salespeople, criminal minds with a little bit of knowledge about technology, not necessarily about blockchain specifically, plus an even greater army of opportunists who build a career around the fact they bought one token years ago, which gives them enough credibility today to start self-marketing as "the expert".

Put those two groups together and what could possibly go wrong?

Enough material for circa 200 pages dedicated to fraud, scams, ponzi-schemes and simple theft on a grand scale. It goes without saying, Stanford's chronicle only scratches the surface, see also the data above, but there's plenty throughout the ten chapters to add an abundance in colourful insights to the bare numbers, which by themselves are already quite revealing already if only because they once again highlight that when it comes to the chance or the promise of becoming wealthy, many in our communities will not be held back by caution or hesitation.

To quote liberally from the reviews on the back page: Prepare to laugh, cringe or be spooked. 50 shades of the dodgiest grey with regulators and the FBI in hot pursuit. And the best part: it's all true.

Among the 'celebrities' that make an appearance is one John McAfee, whose legacy of doubtful deals and dealings includes pumping crypto tokens via his 700,000 followers on Twitter. History has it, one of McAfee's promo-tweets instantaneously created $2bn.

As with many of the stories told, the reader is often left with the realisation one simply cannot make up this stuff. But it's all real, and very much tangible. Just ask the people who got lied to or otherwise lost their money. Crypto Wars pretends to offer more, also illustrated by the subtitle: Faked Deaths, Missing Billions and Industry Disruption, but any reader looking for more than the stories behind dozens of unsavoury scams and tactics will be left disappointed.

This is not a dissertation about the future of cross-border transactions, and neither provides this book an explanation how digitisation is reaching into the upper echelons of global finance, but readers who like to read-up on human nature, tragedies, warts and all, will discover plenty to quench their appetite.

Against the background of the numbers cited earlier, one could easily argue this book is a must read to remind all of us that money is hard earned, but easily lost. In particular in cyberspace. And specifically inside the unregulated world that is crypto today.

And if ever we require a solid reason as to why blockchain and crypto will ultimately need to be regulated, Crypto Wars provides reasons in spades, plus some. Similarities with the internet of the 1990s are impossible to ignore.

During Scam Awareness Week in November 2021, ASIC reported Australians have lost a record $211m to scams so far in 2021, up 89% on the previous corresponding period; the numbers include a sharp increase in reports from consumers about losing money in crypto-asset scams.

Crypto Wars. Faked Deaths, Missing Billions and Industry Disruption. Erica Stanford. Kogan Page. 247 pages. ISBN 978-1-3986-0068-3. GBP14.99.

Based in the UK, Erica Stanford runs Crypto Curry Club, which publishes weekly Crypto Courier and monthly Blockchain Industry Review.

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