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World’s biggest crypto scam goes dark

The website of one of the decade’s largest scams, the fake cryptocurrency OneCoin, ceases operations as authorities zero in on the scammers.

The now infamous pyramid scheme OneCoin has gone offline several months after the US government indicted one of the scheme’s key operators. According to MLM scam monitors, OneCoin’s official website did not return live results from 30th Nov. Its affiliate OneLife website and OneCoin.eu also went dark.

This shutdown comes at the same time as reports of a nondescript van and workers clearing out the final equipment and debris from OneCoin’s official offices in Sofia, Bulgaria.

In the meantime, the ‘mastermind’ behind the scheme that defrauded people out of between $4 and $20 billion USD, Dr. Ruja Ignatova, remains at large.

If all this sounds confusing to you, allow me to explain.

 

What is OneCoin?

It’s 2014. BitCoin has shown the world that there is serious money to be made in Cryptocurrency, with a single BitCoin fetching a hefty $770 USD by 1st Jan. Many hopefuls (and some legitimate economists) are backing crypto as the future of finance. This virtual gold rush, much like the real gold rushes of yore, has rustled up its fair share of quacks, frauds, and snake oil salesmen. One of them is a Bulgarian national called Ruja Ignatova.

Dr. Ignatova, or Dr. Ruja as she became known to her devotees, has created and begun distributing what she claims is a new cryptocurrency – one that will provide financial services to the ‘unbanked’ majority of the world and bring the global market economy to your average citizen. She calls it OneCoin. Good in theory, with the only hang-up being that OneCoin is operating without a blockchain. Aka, the digital record of transactions that make cryptocurrency legal tenor.

In other words, OneCoin is a company pretending to sell legitimate crypto to customers whilst in reality its creators constantly manipulate its value.

Dr Ruja and her associates began selling OneCoin under the guise of ‘educational packages’ that promised to make the buyer rich. You could buy up to 15x your money’s value in OneCoin to become part of the OneCoin (or ‘OneLife’ as believers affectionately called it) ‘family’. Participants in the OneCoin scheme were encouraged with referral rewards to bring in more buyers, growing the OneCoin empire and increasing its influence and value. This structure is essentially a pyramid scheme, otherwise known as Multi Level Marketing (MLM) or a ponzi scheme – ventures that are illegal in most western nations if the product being sold has no real market value. This is inarguably true of OneCoin.

OneCoin’s growth was unprecedented in the cryptocurrency sector thanks largely to the ingenious creation of a community around its buyers. Purchasers of OneCoin were added to WhatsApp groups and Facebook pages of fellow indoctrinates where they were fed propaganda about OneCoin’s value and the inspiration vision of Dr Ruja, who many came to call the ‘cryptoqueen’.

The US government estimates that since 2014 OneCoin has defrauded investors of approximately €4 billion, however BBC reporter Jamie Bartlett, who presented and produced a recent podcast about Ruja entitled ‘The Missing Cryptoqueen’, reckons the amount could exceed $20 billion USD.

 

What’s happening now?

In 2017 a warrant for Dr Ruja’s arrest was filed by the US government. Not long after, Dr Ruja disappeared. She was last seen abroad her luxury yacht in Sozopol.

Her brother, Konstantin Ignatov, who was also involved in the scheme, was arrested at LA International Airport in March 2019. He recently pleaded guilty to charges including money laundering and fraud and faces up to 90 years in prison. Dr Ruja was charged in absentia for money laundering.

Despite this, the OneCoin websites and social media pages remained active until this month. OneCoin purchasers continued to post about the currency and, incredibly, continued to buy packages. Jon Walsh of coinintelligence.com states ‘in all my years of exposing scams, I have never seen the cult belief so strong’ as in OneCoin, with believers seemingly unable to shake the notion that Dr Ruja is on the run due to her attempts to defy the trappings of modern economics and free the people from financial tyranny. Understandably, people would rather believe that they invested billions in a misunderstood guru’s vision than think that they were taken in by a fraudster.

It seems that, despite the continued faith if the OneLife multitudes, whoever’s at the helm of the OneCoin ship now has officially decided to call it quits. The websites shutting down and the offices being cleared out are pretty clear signs that the scammers figure they’ve wrung the scheme for all it’s worth and are cutting their losses.

The location of Dr Ruja is the subject of much Sherlockian speculation. Noir-like, journalists like Bartlett have been combing through financial records and chasing down witness statements to determine where she might be based – so far to no avail. It’s likely that she’s used her billions to go under the knife and render herself unrecognisable.

But even if the cryptoqueen’s face is never again seen in public, if Bartlett’s estimations are correct, she’s ensured the posterity of her criminal vision. Calculations that place OneCoin’s earnings at over $20 billion mean that Dr Ruja will have stolen more than the $19.4 billion lost by Bernie Madoff’s victims, making OneCoin the most successful financial fraud in history.

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