Tim said: ‘I tried working with Dogs Trust for while.’
‘How’d that go?’
‘Not great. Hard to get bank details off people. Then I dd the thing with the catalogues.’
‘It’s when you drop around catalogues to people’s houses and then come back a week later and ask if they want to buy anything….if they do you get a commission on the purchase.’
‘Did you make much at that?’
‘Not a lot. Hard to get people at home and to close them down when they are. Then I set up an online shop with Shopify and I was dropshipping from China. I used to design custom made t-shirts, mugs, biros and hats. It went ok for a while then it just got too competitive. Bitcoin’s where it’s at now though.’
‘I heard that. Apparently it’s going up in value.’
‘It just hit $14,000.’
‘So you need $14,000?’
‘No. You can buy as much as you like. It’s like gold. You don’t have to buy a whole bar. You can buy an ounce, a nugget, a kilo, but in Bitcoin’s case it’s digital. The denominations are called Satoshis which are worth a fraction of cent.’
‘So you can buy what, 10 dollars worth of Bitcoin?’
‘Exactly – and when Bitcoin goes up, your 10 dollars goes up accordingly…..people think you need thousands. You don’t. There’s people that invested $100 in Bitcoin in 2010 and it’s worth $75 Million now.’
And so the conversation went. Tim was an entrepreneurial type for sure. He went on to tell me about many more businesses and jobs he’d tried from Alarm Systems to selling Electricity, Insurance, Tourism Start-ups and Disruptive App revolutions awaiting the right investor. However, he’d found the key with Bitcoin and was eager to spread the good news. Although he was talking in Dollars, I preferred Euros as we’re in Ireland, and I asked him how much he was making.
‘€50 a day. Passive income.’
‘It’s a site called – Bitconnect. You invest your money with them for a specific amount of time and they pay you a daily return based on your investment.’
‘How much have you invested?’
‘And how much have you made back?’
‘€750 so far – and my €2000 is still safe. I can withdraw any time.’
That night, I went home and did some research. Bitcoin had arrived sometime in late 2008 or early 2009. It coincided with the financial crash and was apparently founded by the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto. By all accounts, the founders name was a pseudonym for a person or persons that didn’t want to be identified and it’s still unknown to this day who he/she or they were. Also, there had been previous attempts at creating digital currencies before but they had ultimately failed due to poor technology and lack of mass adoption. Bitcoin had an advantage at this time because the majority of the world was now connected to the internet, making it easier to create a digital network, and publicise it’s existence. The recent crash helped too as there was a growing distrust of banks and financial instituions and people wanted a safe, decentralised place to store their money. Effectively, Bitcoin promised to cut out the middleman – the bank – and allow regular people to trade, move and spend their money without paying high transaction fees. It also abolished the waiting times in sending your money to other countries. Suddenly you could send money to another country in a matter of seconds instead of hours or even days, and for a fraction of the price.
Intrigued, I messaged Tim and asked: ‘So where do you start with buying Bitcoin?’
Seconds later he replied. ‘I’ll send you a referral link to Bitconnect.’
The Irish media wouldn’t shut up about Dutch Tulips. It was a Pyramid Scheme a few hundred years ago, presumably something to do with Tulips and everyone getting financially burned. Every time Cryptocurrency was mentioned on the radio or television, the broadcaster would come back with: ‘It’s a bit like the Tulips that time….’
Meanwhile, Bitcoin was now up to to over €18,000. There was a time less than ten years ago when it was worth a cent so you can imagine the amount of people that cursed the current lack of Time Travel. Their only option was to invest now and catch the train going forward. Enthusiasts claimed it would hit $50,000. Some said half a million. John McAffee, of Anti-Virus fame, promised to eat his own penis if it didn’t hit $1 Million in the next five years. It was all very exciting.
Tim told me more about Bitconnect. It was mostly about referrals and the getting a dividend from the amount of people that came in after you. It appeared all the money went into a big pot of Bitcoin somewhere and as the price went up – everyone got a share of the profits. Obviously, the more people that invested, the more Bitcoin they could buy and the higher the profits for everybody. Those on the top the ladder, who had the most referrals and invested the most, got the largest piece of the pie and so on down the line.
‘Your initial investment is ring fenced and is always safe. So you don’t have to worry.’ He said.
But I researched it anyway. After wading through a myriad of online pub talk about the Tulips I eventually found some sage advice. Bitconnect was indeed based on a pyramid structure and was under investigation by authorities in the US for contradicting a colourful amount of SEC and Financial Rules. Worse still, key people in the company were going missing, Social Media stories abounded about ‘….difficulties withdrawing funds….’ and people like MasterCard and Visa had logged the IP address and were refusing to allow purchases go through.
The diehards said this was all “FUD” or Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt, spread by those that wanted to bring Bitcoin down. They screamed all over Twitter and Telegram that Bitconnect was the future and everyone just needed to “HODL” another crypto term meaning – Hold on for Dear Life – a reference to the wild swings and fluctuations traditionally associated with the unregulated Crypto market. I think the main issue for the supporters was they got commission for referrals so a lot of people had recommended a lot of people who had recommended even more people who were all getting commission from each other which now seemed impossible to access.
In light of the drawbacks, I refrained from investing in Bitconnect and held off for another while to see if there was anything less cryptorisky out there. Eventually I found Coinbase and that’s another story. Meanwhile, Bitconnect was hit with a Cease and Desist order, went bust, and everyone went broke. Bit like the Tulips that time.
Bitcoin now hits €20,000. Most of the world is in a frenzy about it. Families are remortgaging their houses to buy some. Others have maxed out their credit cards, got overdrafts, borrowed, begged and stole from friends. Bitcoin Billionaires are emerging form basements all over the world. Seventeen year old kids with gorky glasses and acne are suddenly driving lamborginis around accompanied by impossible girlfriends. But now everything is possible. There’s a real estate agent in Florida accepting bitcoin for condos. You can use it to buy a Tesla too. And how bout those savings? Making too little interest? Put it all into crypto, double your money in a week, treble it by Christmas. It’s not going anywhere – except up. The technology is here to stay. This is the most exciting thing since the Internet hit critical mass and I bet you wish you got in early there? Bought some Google shares? Some Facebook? Or back further when you could have caught Microsoft and Apple for less than a dollar? Well, here you are. Here’s your chance. Get it now, gonna hit a million, buy yourself an island. No more banks, no more debt, no more worry about the college education, losing your home, repayments on the car. Behold the answer, decentralised, democratic, and oh so simple.
In Ireland, the media had moved from talking about Tulips to the Wall Street Crash. Now it was all about the spit shine boy, giving stock tips to the customers as he cleans their shoes. Apparently this was a bad sign and the insinuation was anyone buying Bitcoin was part of a lower class of human that didn’t know a scam when they saw one, or were too blinded by poverty to not get involved. Pontification aside, people still bought in.
I discovered Coinbase around this time. There was a beautiful simplicity to it. If you can’t get your head around all the talk of satoshis and blockchain, and AltCoins and and FUD and HODL and people constantly talking about “….going to the moon…’ then Coinbase offered a simple straightforward solution. At the time it listed only three cryptocurrencies – Bitcoin, Litecoin and Ethereum. Bitcoin was the daddy at €20,000 and Ethereum came second with Litecoin the third and cheapest. If you wanted to buy some you load up a picture of your ID, register your Visa/Mastercard and then purchase. You got $10 dollar sign up bonus and it was possible to buy as little as $10 if you so wished.
Based on the principle that you buy a fraction of the currency, rather than a whole coin, it made sense to buy Litecoin as it was far cheaper and you’d get more for your money. In the last few months it had climbed from $4, to $45 and was now trading at over a $100. Litecoin was capped at 84 million – meaning there’d only ever be 84 million of them in circulation. The experts made the analogy of Gold and Silver. Bitcoin being the Gold with only 21 million in existence and almost completely bought up or “Mined” the next obvious boom would be in Litecoin. The key word here was scarcity. If something was going to run out, and the whole world wanted some, then the demand and price would inevitably skyrocket. It was so obvious even the spits shine boys could see it coming. All you had to do was buy some and wait.
f you’re not using a secure server or your phone is susceptible to hacking or Malware. For this you need an App called Google Authenticator. It sets you up for 2FA – two factor authentication – and will not let anyone access your data unless they have the six digit code provided by the authenticator.
I then downloaded the App for Coinbase. Lodged a €100 into what they called my “Euro Wallet.’ This is like a vault where you can store your digital money before buying cryptocurrency. You then select which coin you’d like to buy and hit “Purchase.” So I selected Litecoin and watched the rabbit hole swirl, then the screen sang “Success!” and there it was. The price at the time had shot up to around $112 dollars which meant, with exchange rates, I had almost one complete coin – as opposed to the fraction of Bitcoin I’d have as it was now trading at up to $25,000 on some exchanges.
You can set alerts on your phone to tell you when the price hit a certain level. I set mine to let me know when it had gone up by €20. A minute later it beeped. “Price Alert!” I checked and it had indeed increased by that much. I thought it was a fluke, but then five minutes later it went again. “Price Alert!’
€160 – Price Alert!
€180 – Price Alert!
I went on to Twitter and got following some enthusiasts. They were all going crazy. Litecoin was “….going to the moon…” Breaking through it’s All Time Highs (ATH) and surfing the “….greatest Bull Run in History…” in the middle of all this was the man that actually created the coin – Charlie Lee. Unlike Satoshi Nakamoto, Charlie Lee was well known, communicated regularly with the public, and kept updates on happenings with his project. He warned everyone to be careful and not invest money they couldn’t afford as the industry was volatile and could easily crash by 80% overnight. People felt like he was spoiling the party and why was he spreading FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) about his own coin? And so the party went on, broke €300, then €350….and so on.
Meanwhile, the Irish Media were running out of cliched analogies. The Wall St Crash was wearing thin, and even the Tulips didn’t have quite the same ring anymore. The best the the journalists could do was “….tax on stupidity….” and if something is too good to be true….
Then Warren Buffet’s quote got them out of a hole for another while when he said Bitcoin was similar to rat poison. All in all in didn’t make much different because the planet seemed on fire with impossible dreams that were anecdotally coming true.
About 10 years ago everyone was crazy about Poker. Your cousin’s an online expert. Your friend’s making a run for the World Series. Your neighbour’s got a game going every Tuesday night and hey, how come you never noticed that Casino down the road from your house? Game there every Sunday afternoon. €25 Buy-in. Gaming tables and pristine metal poker sets with solid clay chips appear for sale in the shop next door. There’s a tournament Wednesday night in your local pub. Everyone’s an expert. Tells you about odds, percentages, card counting and player psychology. Hey, a good player doesn’t even need to look at his cards, right? That fella you can’t stand at work is shouting across the room about he won €1000 last night on PaddyPower. What a prick. Now he’s in rehab, good riddance.
And here it’s the same with Bitcoin. Everyone knows what’s going to pump and dump. Where it’s going. Technical Analysis. The Fibonacci sequence. Correspondence with world events and stock market volatility. Here comes the Chinese New Year, definitely be a Bull Run then. People in Asia saving their money, religion, year of the monkey, the boom goes on. Hear bout that guy threw out his laptop five years ago? Had some Bitcoin on it. Wasn’t worth much at the time. Could be worth €200 million now. He wants to buy the whole dump where he thinks it might be. What a fool, you gotta be smart with your crypto. Get yourself a diverse portfolio. Don’t be exposed. Join the telegram groups. Keep up to date on Twitter. John McAffe charges $125,000 to recommend a coin. Gotta follow that guy. Up, up, up she goes. Don’t ignore the FOMO. That’s God sending you tips from financial heaven.
And then Bitcoin crashes. The begrudgers are delighted. What did you expect? But of course that was going to happen. Anybody could tell. Now the panic starts. People that bought at the top were getting out at the bottom. Maxxed out our credit cards. Topped up that loan. How we gonna pay that back? If someone had gotten five Bitcoin at €20,000 then they would have invested €100,000. Then it crashes by about 75% and so your savvy investor is now down 75k – in about a week. Queasy situation. Take the hit and get out now. Heard a fella say yesterday it’s all going to zero. Guys at the top been manipulating the price, scam along. Maybe it’ll bounce back? Maybe it’s a glitch? Don’t think so. Jane missed her rent last week, on a warning. One more and she’s out. Kids going to college next year. Can still save half if we’re lucky. Better sell now. Charlie checked his this morning and it’s gone. Something on the Internet. They told him they’d give him free Bitcoin if he signed up. Next thing you know – whoosh! His whole cryptowallet is empty. Then Mary’s phone got hacked. They did it through the phone company. Conned ‘em out of a new sim card. Identify theft. Easy money. No comeback, no regulation. Get out now. It’s all going to zero. See, there goes about €1000. Christ, sell it. Sell it. Sell it. Sell it all now.
Some fella online threatened to kill me if I kept saying bad things about Bitcoin. Went on say he knew where I lived. “…stop spreading FUD….” he said. Still here anyway so he didn’t do a great job. Meanwhile, the crash continued. The irony being that the more people panic sold, the more the price dropped. Just as demand ramped up the price, the opposite became true in the crash. Social Media was littered with pictures of burst air balloons and exploding dirigibles and plane wrecks and money in flames. And yet there was still some diehards that said everyone just needed to “Hodl” and it would be ok. This kind of thing had happened before. Indeed, those longest in the game were least affected by the crash. Charlie Lee for instance managed to sell all his Litecoin, the token he created, almost precisely when it hit the top. He cited conflict of interest at wanting to develop the project while also being invested. So he sold, coincidentally, at maximum profit, while the rest of the world Hodled. To his credit, he did warn that this crash was likely to happen.
So what now? It was down but not dead. And new coins were appearing almost every day. It was a phenomenon called the ICO – Initial Coin Offering. Not unlike an IPO, the ICO’s were used to raise fund for potential projects and company listings on crypto exchanges. A group of programmers would get together, assemble a whitepaper outlining their vision for the Crypto Community and then have a launch. This consisted of tempting investors with discounted coins – or sometimes free in the form of an AirDrop. It was an unregulated, vague concept where no one was quite sure what was being offered. The truth being that nobody cared what the coins did or how they would be used – they just wanted to see them ascend in price like Bitcoin had before the crash and then go buy a lambo. Talk of “mass adoption” and “bringing down the banks” seemed to be all an excuse to feed the digital greed. Crypto was now an investment for those locked out of the Stock Market by lack of funds or understanding.
So where do you get these other magic coins? The big talk was about a currency exchange called Binance. It listed over 1200 coins at the time (now over 2000) and all you had to was transfer your money in from Coinbase and take your pick. There was a myriad of coins that everyone was excited about. Ripple, XRP, Verge, Tron, Stellar Lumens, Cardano….were the most talked about. They ranged in price from 1 cent to 20 cent and the buzz word was AltCoins – Alternative Currencies. Those in the know called them “Alts” or “Altcoins.” You could trade your Alts and surf the price fluctuations or sit back and HODL. I had €40 left out of my initial €100. So I sent that over using the Bitcoin network. They charged €16 in fees leaving a sum total of €24. Who needs bank fees with deals like that? If I had sent it over the Litecoin Newtork it would have cost about 4 cent. FUD that.
There’s no Live way to buy or trade Crypto. It’s all online in Currency Exchanges. You don’t walk around with Ripple in your pocket, or have Litecoins in a jar at home. You buy it online, you sell it online, and can even spend it online. Most people don’t care about spending it though. They just want to get rich, somehow, and often don’t even know the purpose of the coins they’re invested in. It’s a bit like betting on Virtual Racing in a bookies – a shiny gloss of chance on a predetermined outcome. The truth is the price of crypto can be easily manipulated by what the jargon calls “Whales.” This means a Millionaire/Billionaire or consortium of the same can decide whether or not to influence the price of any given coin by either investing heavily, (Pumping) or selling Drastically (Dumping).
A favourite word in the Crypto space is ” Decetnralization” which means there is no one governing body of the currency – therefore it can’t be manipulated and is valued by consensus of those that determine its value when they buy it or sell it. But how can you value something when you don’t even know what it is? When most people bought Bitcoin they hadn’t a clue wtf it even was. They just saw Dollar Signs going up. And Dollar Signs coming down. So imagine a group of whales get together and start pumping a coin and the word goes out that it’s rocketing. Then everyone joins in and the whale’s money + public money is now flooding in. The price goes up, up and up and when the whale is happy that he/they have trebled their money they sell and puncture the bubble and then it starts coming down, down, down and most people lose money except those that pumped it in the first place and knew what was going to happen. You’re only hope is to get in early and sell somewhere in the middle of the Pump (if you happened to know when that is.) It’s also not helped by the “Hodl” philosophy which dictates that you never sell your crypto. You Hold on for Dear Life – even during an 80% crash. If you’re really smart you know all about Dollar Cost Averaging which means that you should buy it on the way down because you’re getting it for cheaper than when you bought at the top and when it hits bottom you average your losses and multiply your gains for when it pumps again. I wonder who came up with that idea?
If you’re not a millionaire there’s a whole host of Telegram Groups that run Pump and Dump sessions. You join the group and they wait for it reach a few thousand members. Then, when they have enough “investors” they announce that they’re going to pump a certain currency, at a certain time, in a certain exchange. So, for example, they announce to their 2,000 followers that they’ll be pumping a coin tonight and to log in at 7.55pm. Then when everyone is ready, they shout: ‘Ok, guys, tonight, at 8pm, we’re all going to buy Cardano on the Binance exchange. We’ll pump, pump, pump until it peaks at about 50% profit and then get out. Everybody ready? Let’s go!’ So the general public is looking at Cardano thinking it’s going up in value because it has intrinsic value while in reality it’s getting pumped by a group collective strangers or whales or both. But hey, don’t worry, it’s all decentralised, right?
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Mokusatsu – A Novel by Mick Donnellan.
(Includes Worldwide Delivery and Postage) Charlie’s out on bail and back on the sauce. Still devastated over the events of El Niño, he drinks to kill the pain and robs all he can to feel alive. But the past won’t give him peace. The police want him in jail. Kramer’s old crew have a price on his head, and his new employer has big plans to carve out his own niche in the criminal underworld — with Charlie at the helm. Roped into a series of audacious heists and ingenious schemes, he finds himself involved with illegal diesel in Westmeath, stolen cash machines in Mayo and violent debt collection in Galway. Couple that with his regular income of stealing wallets and robbing shops and you have a cyclone of a man roaring down a path to destruction. And bringing everybody with him. And then there’s Karena. The beautiful girl that may save him — but maybe she should know better? At times dark, others touching, and often comic, Mokusatsu is a fiction readers feast of Irish Crime Writing.