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The curious case of the self-proclaimed Cryptoqueen behind the $4b scam

Ruja Ignatova is the woman behind the biggest crypto scam in history. But where is she now?

OneCoin founder Dr. Ruja Ignatova famously called herself the Cryptoqueen and proudly told anyone who would listen that her new cryptocurrency is a Bitcoin killer at the heart of the financial revolution. Of course, any sales pitch that begins with a line like that should immediately set off alarm bells, but investors across 175 countries got caught up in the tech hype.

OneCoin. Image by Shutterstock

The self-proclaimed Cryptoqueen was the proud owner of a $17.75 million penthouse in London's affluent Kensington district. As the fanfare gathered pace, thousands of fans flocked to Wembley Arena to soak up her every word on a stage. A phenomenal $4 billion was invested after a successful marketing campaign further strengthened by its passionate community members who could not see outside the echo chamber they created.

Ruja Ignatova suddenly disappeared in a move many described as the biggest crypto scam and rug pull to date. It's not the first time thousands of people have been fooled by a charming visionary's personality and persuasiveness, and it won't be the last. But it highlighted the cultish practices behind some crypto communities where carefully moderated forums tell members not to believe anything they read outside their community.

Anyone with a curious mind that dares to ask questions is quickly shown the door for spreading negativity. Everyone else is told to ignore haters spreading fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD). Large groups of people find themselves believing in the next big thing and becoming motivated purely by FOMO.

Jen McAdam lost around £8,000 ($9,500) of her cash and persuaded family and friends to invest around £220,000 ($263,000). But when cryptocurrency enthusiast Timothy Curry attempted to warn her that professional con artists were deceiving her, tempers began to flare, and McAdam did not want to listen, highlighting how many investors were unable to see beyond their confirmation bias.

However, McAdam's would go on to write a book about her experience, called Fake! and MGM quickly snapped up the rights with Oscar winner Kate Winslet set to portray her. But here in 2022, the hunt for Ruja Ignatova has intensified as the Cryptoqueen was recently added to the FBI's most wanted list along with a $100,000 reward.

Ignatova has been missing in 2017 after discovering that her boyfriend was cooperating in an FBI investigation related to OneCoin. The federal law enforcement agency believes she took a flight from Sofia, Bulgaria, to Athens, Greece, before falling off the radar. Since the disappearance, her brother Konstantin Ignatov pleaded guilty to wire fraud after striking a deal with US authorities. In addition, another accomplice, US attorney Mark Scott was found guilty of laundering $400 million for the group.

It is hoped that adding the first crypto criminal to the FBI's Most Wanted List will send a warning to others thinking about creating their own crypto scam. British Journalist Jamie Bartlett, the creator of the Missing Cryptoqueen podcast, has been hot on the trail of Ignatova since 2019, but this is one story that continues to intrigue audiences around the world.

The FBI has warned that Ignatova could have surrounded herself with armed guards, while others believe a combination of fake passports and plastic surgery is helping the Cryptoqueen to hide in plain sight. As a result, we can expect documentaries, TV dramatizations, and movies on the horizon. But what lessons should audiences learn from the dramatic tale of the missing Cryptoqueen?

Leave your cognitive bias at the door

In the crypto world, it's easy to feel like a heretic when passionately talking about this disruptive space to mainstream audiences who don't understand or care about the incoming financial revolution. As a result, many have formed online communities where passionate coin holders meet in echo chambers on Telegram or Discord, sharing content that strengthens pre-existing beliefs and feeds their confirmation bias. Anyone that dares to share opposing views is quickly banned and accused of spreading FUD.

However, if you dare to look under the hood of many projects, you will find multilevel marketing schemes designed to fuel a herd mentality and spread FOMO. As the search for the Cryptoqueen continues, maybe it's time to reflect on how we have been here before. Anyone that enjoyed the bull market of 2017 will also remember the moment when BitConnect was riding high on Coinmarketcap only to be unveiled as a cryptocurrency Ponzi scheme.

A similar trick was pulled with OneCoin, where investors at the top of the pyramid were making millions at the expense of everyone else. So, when investing in cryptocurrencies, maybe it's time to leave our confirmation bias at the door, step out of online echo chambers, and stop cheering on projects like die-hard loyal fans of a sports team. As the old proverb goes, fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

Instead of looking for the next big project that will revive a failing portfolio of shit coins, let's collectively seek out the projects that are solving real problems with emerging technologies and encouraging an open debate about the road ahead. It's time to learn from the lessons from our crypto past and ensure we do not unwittingly pave the way for the next BitConnect or Cryptoqueen.

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