Everybody knows Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, then you might know him as Joe Exotic, the star of the Netflix viral sensation Tiger King.
He is the latest celebrity to cash in on the NFT craze – using the term celebrity lightly here.
The Tiger King Sega Continues
Joe Exotic rocketed to international fame when the documentary Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, which details his crazy exploits, was viewed on Netflix more than 34 million times in its first ten days.
A documentary that resembles a car wreck you just have to watch and can’t look away. Tiger King is a bizarre story of a man who unsuccessfully ran for the Libertarian Party nomination in Oklahoma in 2018, and campaigned for President of the United States as an independent. Needless to say, he lost both races.
The former zoo operator also had a larger-than-life attitude when it came to running his business including producing country songs about his tigers. Eventually unable to pay for the animals, he was forced to sell his zoo.
Joe is currently serving a 22-year sentence in federal prison for numerous wildlife violations and a twisted plot to kill his rival., Carole Baskin (who was also suspected of killing her husband).
As a classic con-artist and an opportunist, Joe saw a chance to make money with NFTs and took it – even from his cell in Fort Worth Texas. He is selling 3,900 digital autograph photos, including a digital image of him with his tiger Sarge, as NFTs which he defines not as non-fungible tokens but as “Never Forget the Tigers.” .
Why 3,900 you ask? That is the estimated number of tigers left in the world. You have to give it to him for his shameless – and somewhat innovative – self-promotion.
Joe is also selling audio recordings he made in prison. The works will be sold on the marketplace Mintable with some proceeds to go to tiger preservation efforts – or at least according to Joe, if his word means anything.
He is also selling off his prized possession, a Smith and Wesson revolver which he famously used to threaten Carole Baskin on his so-called television station. The revolver was estimated to sell for $100,000, which Joe Exotic will no doubt need for his legal bills. Other things that were sold include a bikini of the adult film actress Rachel Starr who posed for a picture with Exotic and a pair of leather pants and his jacket.
As a new innovation, NFTs are struggling to gain legitimacy and with people like Joe Exotic being associated with NFTs, the average consumer will struggle to see NFTs as anything to be taken seriously, maybe even a scam.
Stopping The NFT Scams
For NFTs to be truly adopted into the mainstream, they need to be legitimized and that means by reputable companies and reputable people, not just anyone trying to cash in on the popularity of NFTs to make a quick buck. This will eventually come with more regulation and governance. And while this is happening with companies like Nike and Louis Vuitton have thrown their brands behind NFTs, many are still waiting to see how they play out.
This is because a lot of people who create NFTs just take the money and run. In Joe Exotic’s case, given his history, he will most likely pocket the money; no preservation society will see any of the promised money.
One of the more dangerous aspects of NFTs is money laundering from illegal activities across the globe. Unfortunately, due to the nature of NFTs it is extremely hard for law enforcement to follow the money and look to see if a sale is legitimate or fraudulent.
NFTs are associated with the artworld which has its own problems and is a known way for organized crime to launder their money. Here’s how they do it: an art dealer comes up with either an extremely high price for a piece of art or a low-ball offer. The syndicates exchange the artwork and it seems legitimate. only one side came away with a lucrative deal.
Authorities are only able to catch on if, say, a Van Gogh is sold for ten thousand dollars and a no-name artist is sold for millions of dollars. This is immediately flagged by officials as suspicious who can then monitor the art dealer for criminal activity.
The trouble with NFTs is the lack of any reference for how to value them, so it’s much harder to discover if something is being sold by illicit means or not. For example, a recent NFT by a previously unknown artist who goes by the online name Beeple was sold for $69 million. Normally regulators and law enforcement would keep watch on such activities, but who's to say what that NFT is worth and how much someone should pay for it?
NFT Crime and Scams
Are NFTs organized crime’s wet dream? While it’s hard to connect the owner’s identification to the real-world identity, it’s not impossible, and with enough resources, it’s possible to do policing and find out who is behind some of the scams and crimes in the space.
This is especially true since every NFT transaction is recorded on the blockchain ledger. Recently OpeanSea, a NFT marketplace, froze some NFT accounts but this called into question whether they had the right to do so. Some argued that this went against the blockchain principle of decenteralization.
If we can’t freeze accounts or stop bad actors from creating scams, the logical question becomes: How can you verify you actually bought one of the 3,9000 so-called legitimate NFTs from Joe Exotic? And what’s to stop him, (a known con artist) from reissuing any one of those NFTs again and again, even after he promised that there will only be 3,9000?
The answer is that you can’t and you don’t know.
Greatness Comes at a Cost
It may be impossible to stop people like Joe Exotic from issuing their NFTs and that’s simultaneously one of the greatest advantages and biggest challenges of the NFT space. It’s open for everyone to take part in it, but that will invite bad actors to try to abuse it’s openness and the rising interest.
Some will wait for rules and regulations, however, that’s not going to happen anytime soon and its impact will be limited due to the global nature of the market and the constant innovation that makes it hard for regulations to keep up.
It seems like in the wild west of NFTs being hyper-vigilant, raising awareness, and working together to weed out scams, fraud, and money laundering, are essential steps to fully realize the potential of NFTs and take advantage of their transformative nature.