I recently watched “Bitconned”, the new Netflix documentary about the con artists behind the scam cryptocurrency project Centra. I have to admit it just might be the best crypto related documentary I’ve ever seen. This despite the fact that the movie isn’t really about cryptocurrencies at all, but rather the sad state of our current society. If you’re looking for a documentary that teaches you about crypto, look elsewhere, but if you’re looking for a documentary that tells a story that’s equal parts entertaining, infuriating, and illuminating, and also happens to involve crypto, this is the movie for you.
With a running time of just 94 minutes, it’s a relatively quick watch. You could even watch it at 1.5x speed and not miss a beat. It’s well made, well researched, and the film can be especially nostalgic for people like me who first got into crypto during the mania of the ICO craze of 2017.
I’m ashamed to admit I remember actually holding some Centra, or CTR. Back then I knew very little about crypto but had so much fomo I was willing to invest in just about anything based on something as stupid as the musings of any rando I happened to find on crypto twitter. People like Clif High, whom I’d all but forgotten about until seeing him again in the film. (I couldn’t help but laugh when the main character in the documentary, Ray Trapani, refers to him as “this old nerd”.)
The truth is while I remembered holding Centra, I didn’t realize until watching the film how much of a scam it really was. It made me embarrassed to realize how foolish I’d been to invest in something so ridiculously scammy while having done absolutely no real research of my own.
I don’t want to spoil the film for those who have yet to see it, but there are just so many preposterous moments that it’s hard to believe the whole thing wasn’t made up. Like how they hired a former male stripper without any previous finance experience to be their CFO. Or the fact that they invented a CEO out of thin air by Googling “old white guy” and picking one of the images, putting it on their website, and giving him a fake name and background.
You’ll have to watch for yourself to see how crazy the whole thing is, and yet these guys managed to raise over 100,000 ETH for their project. They signed the likes of Floyd Mayweather and DJ Khaled to endorsement deals. They had so much money they rented out office space and hired over 50 employees. They were the perfect embodiment of fake it ’til you make it, and that’s exactly what they did, until it eventually caught up with them.
Like I said, you’ll have to watch Bitconned yourself for all the idiotic and absurd details, but here were some of my main takeaways:
- The film highlights how crazy the cryptocurrency industry can be. The sheer amount of money people are willing to throw away in the hopes of getting rich quick, and how easily one can be fooled with little more than a decent website, an active slack channel, and a few videos.
- That our society has become backwards as evidenced by the fact that we have a government that rewards people like Ray Trabani for defrauding people as long as he is willing to cooperate with the state and throw everyone else around him under the bus.
- The stark contrast between a project like Centra and a project like eCash. Whereas Centra raised a ton of money based on nothing but hype and lies, then used that money to pay influencers and hire a bunch of employees who had nothing to do, projects like eCash are working hard to build something people will value.
Watching the film made me understand why so many people distrust the cryptocurrency industry, but I hope those who watch it also see how much we should distrust the government. For example, the film reveals how the US government took 100,000 Ether from Centra, but none has been returned to any of the potential victims. I say potential victims since it could be argued that anyone who seeks to get rich quickly while doing absolutely nothing probably deserves to be scammed.
I don’t know if there’s a moral to this story, but what I do know is that this is the kind of clown world I don’t want to live in, and it saddens me since I believe cryptocurrencies have the potential to actually help solve some of these problems. Projects like Centra are the reason why crypto has such a bad reputation and has only made it that much harder for legitimate projects like eCash to achieve their goals. Hopefully, the cryptocurrency industry has learned from these mistakes of the past and builds a strong culture based not on flashy hype, but on proving your work.