The Cryptoqueen’s Gambit

The curious world of cryptocurrency continues to be a valuable source of insight into the human condition. Regrettably, that world arena seems to regularly expose two of our least attractive qualities: gullibility and greed.

CNN recently carried a fascinating story about a woman named Ruja Ignatova, who presented herself as the “Cryptoqueen.” It’s a tale of glitzy presentations by Ignatova back in 2014, 2015, and 2016 about her cryptocurrency company, called OneCoin, that was supposed to square off with Bitcoin and take over the crypto market. Credulous investors were allegedly promised outlandish returns of as much as five and ten times the value of their initial investment and put huge amounts of money into OneCoin, only to see it all vanish–along with Ignatova herself. The Cryptoqueen boarded a plane in Sofia, Bulgaria in October 2017 and disappeared. According to federal authorities, OneCoin was nothing but a gigantic Ponzi scheme, designed to bilk suckers out of their hard-earned cash.

Since then, the Cryptoqueen has been an international fugitive who can now be found only on the FBI’s 10 most wanted list. Her brother and a business colleague who were also involved in OneCoin, on the other hand, were arrested, have pleaded guilty to financial-related crimes, and are awaiting sentencing. The CNN story linked above describes the magnitude of the OneCoin scam as follows:

“Authorities say OneCoin was a pyramid scheme that defrauded people out of more than $4 billion as Ignatova convinced investors in the US and around the globe to throw fistfuls of cash at her company. Federal prosecutors describe OneCoin as one of the largest international fraud schemes ever perpetrated.”

U.S. investors chipped in about $50 million of that $4 billion, and the FBI is offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to the Cryptoqueen’s arrest. If you want to be on the lookout for her on your next international trip, be aware that Ignatova’s “most wanted” poster notes: “Ignatova is believed to travel with armed guards and/or associates. Ignatova may have had plastic surgery or otherwise altered her appearance.”

The Cryptoqueen’s gambit evidently allowed her to flee with lots of other people’s money. The ultimate lesson her gambit teaches is to beware of alleged “investments” that rely on flamboyant presentations and promise to somehow produce multiples of your buy-in through processes you don’t quite understand. The people who lost the money they put into OneCoin wish they had learned that lesson earlier, and been less gullible–and greedy.