‘Number Go Up’

Zeke Faux, in an excerpt from his new book, Number Go Up: Inside Crypto’s Wild Rise and Staggering Fall, published at Bloomberg (News+ link):

Thuy was 29 but looked younger, with a thin mustache and wavy bangs that covered his forehead. When he opened his mouth to light a cigarette, he revealed that he was missing at least four front teeth—knocked out, he told me, by his captors in Cambodia. Sitting cross-legged on the green-tiled floor of his aunt’s tiny apartment, we went over satellite photos of Chinatown. Thuy showed me the gates manned by guards and the areas the captive workers couldn’t leave. He also pointed out a hotel with a gilded facade within the complex where he said the bosses were serviced by prostitutes.

He was eager to tell me more about his ordeal in Chinatown. He showed me a ragged scar behind his ear and one on his arm. And he brushed his bangs aside to point out a long lump on his forehead, from a fracture that was still healing.

Thuy told me he’d only managed to arrange to be rescued because he’d stolen a guard’s iPhone and hid it inside his rectum. When the phone died, he took it apart without using any tools, peeled out the dead battery, charged it by hot-wiring it to a fluorescent light fixture, and used it to contact the YouTuber, who then paid the ransom. He offered to demonstrate the hot-wiring. We found a shop, where I bought a used phone for about $50. Then we went to my hotel, where, without hesitation, Thuy took apart an LED bulb in the lamp in my room. Using a USB cable he stripped with his teeth, he proceeded to wire the bulb to the iPhone’s battery. When he reinstalled it, the phone powered on.

“I was very calm, no fear at all, because I thought that I would die either way,” Thuy told me. “If they found out I was the one stealing that phone, I would either be beaten up or killed. But if I managed to hide it, I would have a chance to live.”

The “pig butchering” scam Faux describes works like this: Scammers pose as vivacious young Asian women. They spam WhatsApp and other messaging platforms with random “wrong messages” (I get such entreaties periodically, perhaps because my WhatsApp number is the same as my number for Signal, which I make public), then start flirting after apologizing for their “mistake”. Then, they drop that they happen to be profiting mightily from cryptocurrency trading, and encourage their marks to get into the action. Easy money. When the marks convert dollars into crypto (Tether, most commonly) and transfer the crypto to their new online girlfriends, the money, of course, goes to the Chinese gangsters running the racket. Worse still, the workers running the scams are captives enslaved in massive compounds, one of which Faux visits in Cambodia, the very one his source Thuy escaped from.

Seems like a crackerjack book.

Friday, 18 August 2023