Skycoin a Singapore-based firm called was targeted by these evil con artists and is still dealing with the consequences today. After deciding to hire a public relations firm to improve their website and do PR, the project and its co-founder found themselves trapped in a web of extortion, dishonesty, and criminality that most people would never imagine could be real.
You may be captivated by tales of people making billions overnight, or you could be terrified by scams in which the creators of fraudulent businesses flee to Tahiti with their investors’ money. However, it’s doubtful that the first thing that springs to mind is gory stories of extortion and kidnapping.
The explosive profit potential of cryptocurrencies has attracted a myriad of extortionists, scammers, and outright criminals over the years since Bitcoin was first launched in January of 2009. Some developers have damaged companies’ reputations by such con artists, and some have been beaten, kidnapped, and even killed.
Skycoin’s mission and products
Skycoin is a prominent crypto company whose co-founder, Brandon Smietana, worked on the Bitcoin code and Satoshi Nakamoto. The project was initially conceived as an answer to questions that Bitcoin and Ethereum could not solve. Skycoin develops hardware and software that help companies and individuals harness the potential of blockchain technology, recover control of their information, and optimize and secure networks and data storage.
The company’s flagship products are Fiber, an infinitely scalable and highly customizable parallel P2P network architecture. CX, a multifunctional programming language specialized for developing blockchain applications, Skyminer equipment for running Skywire network nodes, and zero-configuration hardware and blockchain solutions for enterprise networks.
Skycoin fell victim to scammers and opportunists
In February, Skycoin Global Foundation Singapore filed a federal RICO lawsuit (Skycoin v. Stephens, 22-cv-00708, U.S. District Court against some former contractors and several other defendants conducting a criminal campaign to tap into the company’s assets since 2018. This has involved paying journalists and social media groups to defame Skycoin’s reputation, as well as blackmail, extortion, and kidnapping.
The main defendants in the lawsuit are Bradford Stephens and Harrison Gevirtz, aka ‘HaRRo,’ who is widely considered the king of the blackhat marketing criminal underworld and founder of the infamous blackhatworld.com website.
After Skycoin hired its company in early 2018 to promote the project and implement SEO optimization, its website began to be barraged with spam, which included links to pornographic blogs. Stephens requested $100,000 – $300,000 per month to end these attacks, but on learning that it was the contractors behind them, Skycoin refused.
At that point, the conspirators demanded $30 million in BTC and $1 million in cash while threatening to keep SKY from being listed on leading exchanges if they weren’t paid.
But it didn’t stop at just blackmail. In 2018, Smietana and his girlfriend were forcibly held in their Shanghai flat by kidnappers who tried to force Skycoin’s co-founder to give up the passwords to his computer, which contained source code and other valuable information. After being beaten and tortured for six hours, Smietana capitulated, and the attackers managed to steal about $139,000 in Bitcoin and $220,000 in Skycoin. According to the lawsuit, Stephens and Gevirtz organized this kidnapping.
The crimes listed above suggest blockchain companies and executives must take their security seriously. Though successful projects have the potential to bring them and their investors untold riches, they can also attract criminals who may inflict irreparable harm on their companies and persons. Experience has shown that some crypto entrepreneurs have even paid the ultimate price for their success.
In filing its lawsuit, Skycoin seeks to repair some of the damage inflicted by the scammers, restore its good name, and rid itself of the extortionists.