The crypto world is a messy place: Driven by pseudonymous actors; clouded to outsiders by niche terminology; and sheltered behind private Discords, screen names, and avatars. The community’s volatile digital currencies and NFTs dramatically rise and fall in value, often inflated or driven down in nefarious ways. In a world without regulation and oversight, rampant with misinformation and insider trading, something as small as an unsourced tweet can swing millions to one person or another.
Just last week, an executive of the popular NFT trading platform OpenSea was indicted for money laundering and wire fraud. The Department of Justice said the executive was aware in advance of what NFTs would be featured on the site’s homepage, and purchased them beforehand, knowing they would shoot up in value.
When accusations of scams fly in the crypto world, the economic impact can be serious. Innuendo, slander, and celebrity can tilt the market, and as such, everywhere you turn online, you see someone accusing a cryptocurrency or NFT project of being a fraud.
NFTs are non-fungible tokens, digital assets such as art that people purchase in the hopes that, as our lives move increasingly online, like with the metaverse, they will increase in value.
What’s worse, accusations can be hard to understand. Anonymity makes it hard to hold the right creators accountable for misleading or illegal crypto projects. And sometimes, projects made by anonymous sources often appear untrustworthy, even if creators have honest intentions. But in a world where people are being pressed to invest instantly, and much is asked on blind faith, any allegation merits analysis and interrogation.
Crypto Twitter has been in a frenzy in the past few months about such rumors, doling out numerous accusations against the alleged projects of one investor and NFT-backer in particular: Gavin Mayo. Mayo is a crypto influencer with over 357,000 followers on TikTok and Instagram. [Mayo appears to have removed his TikTok sometime after being contacted by the Daily Dot for this article but before publication] His public TikTok contained videos promoting various NFT projects and showing off expensive cars, houses, clothes, and travel. His Instagram, which alternates between public and private, is more of the same.
Mayo is facing heat online after multiple users accused him of misleading investors in various NFT projects—also known as “rug pulling” in the crypto community.
In February, a Twitter group called NFT Ethics circulated a nearly 60-page document doxing Mayo and accusing him of being a part of a rug-pulling “ring.” The document, which is heavily disputed, provides alleged screenshots of Discord messages and social media posts that suggest NFT projects like League of Sacred Devils, League of Divine Beings, Vault of Gems, Lucky Buddhas, Faceless, Dirty Dogs, Sinful Souls, and Faceless are “rug pulls” by Mayo and his friends.
“Rug-pulling” is a term used to describe misleading and illegal crypto projects, typically NFT collections, which operate in a “pump and dump” fashion. Backers inflate the value and then disappear, breaking promises to investors of great returns or exclusive perks, like events or community membership. Some don’t even deliver on the NFTs that are the basis of the project.
One unrelated, but infamous alleged rug pull the government is now trying to prosecute is Frosties, which lured NFT purchasers with promises of eventual 3D versions of their avatars and a video game, before its founders abandoned the venture. In a leaked screenshot, one of the founders allegedly admitted to never intending to deliver the project’s promises. The founders are now facing charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering after reportedly walking away with $1.1 million, according to the Verge.
With a potential swift windfall like that, it’s easy to see why everyone in the NFT world is on edge.
But in a message to the Daily Dot on Twitter, Mayo denied all allegations of rug-pulling.
“None were rugpulls. No discords were deleted. The only difference between those projects and bored ape yacht club is a low floor price. So it’s defined as a failed business,” Mayo told the Daily Dot.
“Floor price” is the lowest price option available to become a member of an NFT project. Bored Ape Yacht Club is one of the most popular NFT projects on the market, and currently has a price floor of 119.00 Ethereum—roughly equivalent to $34,000—listed on OpenSea, an NFT marketplace.
In comparison, one of Mayo’s NFTs, Dirty Dogs, has a floor price of 0.005 Ethereum, about $9.
“Dirty dogs literally still does AMAs,” Mayo said, suggesting that if he were misleading on the project, the online community supporting it would have dissipated or be up in arms. On Twitter, though, plenty are upset.
“You don’t have to believe it but every accusation is completely wrong. NFT Twitter is a foul place. I don’t respond because I don’t care. I’ve never rugged a project in my life. Anyone can tie anyone to projects. I just trade crypto NFTs and run my own trading server. When people lose money they need someone to blame. That someone has been me and my business partners. People are really just stupid that’s all I have to say,” Mayo said.
But in the wake of the NFT Ethics document, some projects related to Mayo have lingering questions around them.
Does the decrease in an NFT project’s social media presence, a drop in value, and less-than-hoped-for community perks constitute something inherently nefarious? Lines are blurry.
While Dirty Dogs and Lucky Buddhas are still listed on OpenSea, Sinful Souls has been removed. Sinful Souls promised NFT holders exclusive parties, events, gallery exhibitions, and merchandise. A couple of events were documented on its Instagram, although its social media presence has petered out, with its latest post being over seven months ago. The same goes for Lucky Buddhas, whose social media accounts appear to have been taken down.
Mayo did not answer follow-up questions from the Daily Dot about how some of these allegations may have influenced or swayed his projects regardless of their veracity.
“Why are you reporting on some stupid document on Twitter that has no proof and is made by a 16-year-old,” he said, ”If you just do your research properly you’d see none of those projects are rugs.”
Mayo didn’t specify who the “16-year-old” was but said he was planning “lawsuits.” NFT Ethics did not respond to an inquiry on the identity of who made the document.
The long document circulated on Twitter claims this so-called “scam ring” had an intent to mislead, “launching and abandoning NFT projects, fraudulently stealing millions of dollars from unsuspecting people and leaving them holding the bags of now worthless jpegs.”
The document points to a video where Gavin says he is a part of the Sinful Souls project. However, the document’s argument that Mayo is a leader behind other projects listed can be considered a stretch—with the author tying Mayo’s car to a promotional video of a project, picturing Mayo socializing with members of a project, and showing Discord screenshots which haven’t been independently verified.
And it’s claims like these, which haven’t been vetted, that can completely sink a project.
Whether the group NFT Ethics has an ax to grind against Mayo or a competing project is unknown. But the crypto world is considered a zero-sum game, and if people don’t want someone’s money to go to one place, it’s fair to ask if they want it heading someplace else.
Shortly after the document was released by NFT Ethics, the tweet containing the document was removed and the NFT Ethics account was momentarily suspended. Once the account was restored, NFT Ethics tweeted the following:
“We did not create the PDF document that was released, couldn’t edit the document and didn’t have time to create a proper thread in advance of minting. In the end we decided that sharing the info would outweigh the potential downsides of the document and not releasing it.”
In a message to the Daily Dot, NFT Ethics said the following: “We did not create that document, but it contained addresses of people involved (we would never do that) and the reason it was taken down is that the hosting provider and/or Twitter probably received complaints about this personal information which is against their [Terms and Conditions]. We did not delete any documents and/or tweets.”
Despite being taken down on Twitter, the heavily disputed document managed to upend an upcoming recent NFT project, Squiggles, saying it was secretly run by Mayo because he was pictured hanging out with Squiggles members and partying on its release night.
Squiggles is an NFT art project, with over 200,000 followers on Twitter, initially intended to be a collection of 10,000 NFT memberships. However, shortly after it launched its public mint in February—selling over 2,000 NFTs and trading a volume of Ethereum worth over $2 million—its trade was halted on OpenSea.
Because Squiggles trading was stopped shortly after the 60-page document was released, some Twitter users speculated it was because of its potential connections to illegitimate projects.
On the day trading was halted, the Squiggles Twitter account said: “Today was a rollercoaster for the Squiggles Community, Big ups and downs. despite the claims of this project being a scam and rugpull, we are still here, working and navigating through all of this.”
Then, a week after its trading was halted, Squiggles released a statement on Twitter saying: “Squiggles will now be a collection of 5,000 pieces rather than the initial 10,000… We are continuing to actively pursue trading being resumed on OpenSea. It is important to note that our collection is not delisted, but has trading halted. We believe trading will be resumed shortly.”
Months later, there are still no Squiggles available for sale on OpenSea. On Twitter, though, there are plenty of accusations calling it a “rug pull.” The Daily Dot reached out to Squiggles and OpenSea but has not heard back.
In March, creator Coffeezilla, who has over 1 million followers on YouTube, reinvigorated Twitter accusations against Mayo after recapping some of the information on the 60-page document. Coffeezilla also said on Twitter he thinks Squiggles inflated its worth using shadow wallets, anonymous wallets which pick up multiple NFTs to resell them and inflate a project’s value: “@squiggles NFT used a series of shadow wallets to buy their NFTs and make it seem like it was selling well. only a tiny fraction of their sales are real.”
Shadow wallets are a frequent accusation in the crypto community. Coffeezilla did not respond to the Daily Dot’s request for comment.
The accusations against Mayo have since piled in. One new viral TikTok accusing Mayo, which has over 54,000 views, was posted by a user who goes by the name “Prisom” (@prisom_xyz). Prisom is a creator with over 10,000 followers on TikTok who makes videos about alleged crypto “scams.”
In the video, Prisom says: “[Mayo] nervously threatened me after a follower asked me to look into him as a potential scammer. He commented saying I have a nice TikTok and that he’d have his people look into it. And then he threatened one of my followers if he responded to his comment one more time to see what would happen.”
Prison continued, “That’s not all though, I’ve dug up some pretty dirty stuff on this guy and it looks like he’s been a part of several scams and … a Twitter sleuth was able to connect his wallet to the Imaginary Ones NFT project. He was even caught on his Instagram celebrating the project’s launch,” Prisom said, pointing to an Instagram story that tagged Mayo at the launch.
A follow-up video on Mayo that reiterated the claims garnered over 100,000 views.
Imaginary Ones is a 3D art NFT project which advertises plans for a future metaverse community for its NFT holders. After its public mint this month, it has traded nearly $20 million worth of NFTs on OpenSea.
Prisom told the Daily Dot, “His wallet picked up I think around 250 of their NFTS and he was caught celebrating the launch of the project in the same fashion he would when he would celebrate the launches of his … projects in the past. This last one is still in the works so [I’m] not 100% sure on what type of connection is there.”
Why Prisom attempted to tie Mayo to Imaginary Ones is somewhat unknown, although he responded to a follow-up question presented by the Daily Dot in a similar manner to his initial response, pointing out Mayo’s partying and claiming he bought Imaginary Ones NFTs:
“Hey, yeah like I said his involvement in the actual development of the project isn’t a certainty.”
But the accusations were vocal enough that they made their way up to Mayo and the people behind the Imaginary NFT project.
In a tweet posted in April, Mayo said: “Attention NFT Idiots…It’s funny how a simple story from my account can create a fud [fear, uncertainty and doubt] storm. I don’t know why people are still obsessed with me but I guess I can’t get signs at the club anymore…I am not involved with imaginary ones.”
Two days later, Imaginary Ones released a public statement saying: “Some false information was spread on Twitter a few hours before launching our public mint. The gist of the FUD is that we are somehow associated with the Squiggles team, and the [Imaginary Ones] project is a rug pull. We immediately went on Twitter to clarify this to the people who raised these allegations. After some probing, there was no concrete evidence that they could provide beyond just a ‘hunch’ … The wallet that the accusers have claimed to be a part of Squiggles’ internal trading is false.”
Imaginary Ones did not respond to a request for comment from the Daily Dot.
The Daily Dot was not able to locate evidence that Mayo is involved in the Imaginary Ones project, nor that the project is illegitimate. It appears the team behind the Imaginary Ones project is fully “doxed”—aka, their identities have been revealed and they have a traceable track record with other crypto projects.
However, just having a face in the game doesn’t make a crypto project magically trustworthy. Various celebrity endorsements for NFT and cryptocurrency projects have poured in this year, including a controversial “Crypto.com” Super Bowl ad from actor Matt Damon. In a highly speculative, hard-to-understand market, more and more celebrities are endorsing NFT projects and cryptocurrencies.
And at a time when crypto is plummeting and people’s wallets are hurting, it’s likely more scam accusations will appear. Whether to believe them, when so much can’t be proven, is unfortunately on people who need to put up the funds.