Sep 13, 2023

"Number Go Up" author Zeke Faux discusses the key highlights of his new book that documents crypto's wild ride, including his conversations with FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried before the exchange filed for bankruptcy.

Video transcript

The state of crypto is presented by Tron connecting the world to the power of Cryptocurrency. Good morning and welcome back to first mover. Our next guest is out with a new book documenting kryptos Wild Ride, including his conversations with FTX founder Sam Bank Man Fried before the exchange filed for bankruptcy. Joining us now to discuss is the author of number Go Up Zeke Fox. Welcome to the show, Zeke. Hey, thanks for having me on. Thanks for being here. Now, you definitely had a wild ride. It seems while you were writing this book, you traveled to many different countries, talked to many different people, some of whom are behind bars right now. Um You share an anecdote in the book about a friend investing in Dogecoin back in 2021 that kind of sparked your interest in the space. Talk to us about why you set out to tell crypto story and write this book. So I always wanted to write like one of these crazy adventure books as a teenager, I loved Into Thin Air by John Krackow or bringing Down the House, the Mit Blackjack team and book. And I just, I've been a reporter for a long time, but I never found the right subject then as you alluded to, I hadn't really looked into crypto too much. My friend started teasing me about all the money he was making on Dogecoin. Long story short, I got totally sucked in. And at some point during this journey, maybe I'm on like some billionaire's yacht moored off the coast of the Bahamas or I'm in El Salvador talking to people about the adoption of Bitcoin. And I was just like, wait, this is the adventure you've been waiting for. Nothing will ever happen again. Like this crypto bubble, you gotta write a book about this. So I feel like I was really lucky to be there for these last two years and to come back with these crazy stories that I think, yeah, whose yacht were you on this? Well, so I had spent a while trying to meet with Brock Pierce uh because I was interested in tether, he's one of the founders and it's a little bit, I thought that I was on his yacht, but it turned out to be sort of like a yacht time share that he was marketing where you would like buy an NFT and you could join this yacht. He said that if I if we who are the people who joined would be part of the Crypto Avengers and this would be sort of like the Avengers super yacht. Um But um yes, so it was a cool yacht but I'm not sure if it was technically his or it was more of like a business. I saw white Lotus. I know what happens on yachts. You know, I didn't see anything to, I was a little disappointed with the action on this yacht. Uh I mean, I like being on a yacht but like I was expecting uh more craziness. Um I tried to wrangle an invitation on to Michael sailors um but was not able to, to get out there in Miami. What do your friends who, who got into crypto? Think of the book? Good question. I think that they um so far the feedback has been great. I was happy to see. Um I mean, the book is spoiler alert, like fairly negative about crypto, which I, I don't think should be surprising for anyone who's followed what's happened in the last couple of years. Um But I'm John Jeff Roberts just wrote a review in Fortune where he was like, you know, I don't really agree with the author, but this book is so funny. Who cares? And so I thought that even though the review is a little bit negative, I was like, you know what, that's what I was going for. I'm trying to just call it like I see it, but I hope that even if you disagree, you could still enjoy reliving all these crazy stories. So, uh speaking of stories, um you, you talk about a pig slaughter. What's not kosher about it? A pig butcher, pig, butcher, pig butcher, sorry, pig butcher. So you always hear this stuff about illicit uses of crypto. And tether is one of the mysteries at the center of the book. You hear a lot about, oh, tethers might be used for illicit things. I was looking for hard evidence and then it came in this unexpected way. I got one of those random text messages that we all get and it was like, hey, David, like, what's up? And I'm like, OK, I'm not David. Um But I'm gonna write back and I played along for a little bit. I still became sort of texting friends with someone who said their name was Vicky Ho who sent pictures um showing that they were a attractive face, tuned young Asian woman. And it took a surprisingly long time, but after we had established some of her rapport, she told me she was great at trading crypto and like, please get some tether on like coin based or crypto dot com or something. Zap it over to my special app and I'm gonna teach you the secrets of making like 30% returns on short term node trading. Um And the crazy part is that I never really got to figure out who Vicky was. She disappeared after I sent the tether. But I found out that a lot of the people on the other ends of these spam messages are actually in Cambodia and they're victims of human trafficking. And there are like whole cities of people like giant office towers full of people who've been tricked into traveling to Cambodia and forced under threat of torture and beatings to send spam messages and entice people to send them crypto. Uh It really sounds like some Q and on conspiracy theory, but I spoke to, I traveled to Vietnam and Cambodia to speak to victims of this and to see some of these scam compounds for myself. So whe when you uh say that, you know, using tether for a uh scam, it's i it's not tethers A a and you from what I understand in the book, you, you go after or you try to find Tether's found the founders, you mentioned Brock Pierce et cetera and some of the people running it. But these kind of human trafficking stories don't involve management at tether, right. This isn't like something organized by tether to be clear. Correct. Right. I'm glad you're putting that out. It's not that tether is running these scams. It's that they've created a coin that can be transferred anonymously that allows was me to zap. You know, in my book, I only send 100 bucks but I zapped 100 81 after fees. Um zapped $81 to a scammer. Probably some Chinese gangster in Cambodia. No refunds. Nobody knows who sent it or who received it. And some people uh one crypto tracing expert estimates that like $10 billion has been sent to this way. And I also spoke to a police officer, a veteran investigator from Taiwan who works on human trafficking cases. And he said, hey, these human traffickers used to buy and sell their victims using banks. This was more difficult or this was easier to trace. They have uh you know, KYC information. Now they use tether, there's no names or addresses associated with the accounts. It's, it's made it much harder for me to do my job and crack these cases you mentioned in the book. Um and just following up what you on what you said there that crypto is quote fueling the human trafficking scheme and given some of the research that you just outlined, I can understand why you've said that. Uh do you think that if crypto didn't exist and the banks and the criminals were still using the banks that these schemes would be as big as they are as big as the ones that you've uncovered? I mean, it's really hard to say in the book, I write about how these schemes uh not the human trafficking part, but the scam part is really dates back like more than 100 years. They're using a playbook that people there used to be traveling con men on railroads who would approach you and try and trick you with these ideas about Can't miss bets. And like now it's on the internet now they're using crypto. So I'm sure like whatever payment methods were available, they would try and find some way to use them. But uh right now they're making use of crypto and it's gotten to be such a big problem that even like the United Nations Interpol, they're all saying that these like scam and gambling compounds have become like an international issue that need to be stopped. All right, we got to ask you about Sam Bagman Fried. Everyone is talking about him. He's of course facing criminal charges in New York. That trial starts on October 3rd. You sat down with him. Were you surprised to see how his journey unfolded after you had your conversations with Sam? For sure. I mean, one of the I met Sam at Bitcoin 2021 in Miami and he was there to rename the arena after his exchange FTX and I was taken by this story. Same as everyone else like this billionaire who was only getting rich so that he could give it all away. Um So it was a, uh, you know, of course, I wish I was the one who called it, but I have to say I was surprised as anyone else when it was revealed that he'd been borrowing the customer, he'd been dipping into the customer funds of FTX and gambling it away with Alameda. Uh It was a big surprise to me too and that's why around at the end of this book, I fly down to the Bahamas before the cops get there and I go visit Sam at his penthouse to try and understand what happened. All right. And I just want to clarify something here. When we're talking about crypto, we're talking about all crypto. Are we talking about tether, tether? Which you went um in search of finding more information about which, which crypto are we talking about? And in like, what context, what do you like? So what a lot in the book we talk about um you know, human trafficking being fueled by crypto and there's like a lot of reference to crypto. Does all Cryptocurrency fall into that bucket or is there a specific one or two? I mean, for whatever reason, the in the human trafficking side on these pig butchering scams, they really prefer tether. Um But the book I Yeah, but so, and if you're asking about that, that one's just tether. Um But uh the book really touches on like all of crypto. OK, quickly before we go, do you think there's a future for Cryptocurrency? You know, if you've seen it, like having seen what I've seen, I'm not waiting. I don't think we'll ever see another bubble like this one again. I think it's the greatest financial mania in the history of the world. And I feel like I was lucky I was there for it. Um That said like, who knows? Maybe someone's gonna come up with some new use for crypto that you know that I can't even think of right now. Seek. Thanks very much for joining us this morning. Congratulations on the launch of the book. Thanks a lot. We should note that Coindesk reached out to tether for comment on the pig butchering scheme that we spoke about but did not hear back. That was number go up author Zeke Fox.

Learn more about Consensus 2024, CoinDesk’s longest-running and most influential event that brings together all sides of crypto, blockchain and Web3. Head to to register and buy your pass now.