An NFT artist who claims to be battling cancer has seemingly erased all online profiles after raising over US$114,000 (AU$175,000) in funds.
Pixel artist ‘Hopeexist1’ has been in the digital art space for over a year. According to her peers, she claims to have lacrimal gland cancer, and has supposedly been receiving chemotherapy for her condition.
In February 2023, Hopeexist1 released an NFT collection called ‘Pixel Penguin’ to raise funds for her ongoing medical condition. The collection featured 10,000 still and moving digital artworks of penguins in various costumes. According to the NFT community on Twitter, 20% of proceeds collected from the collection would be donated to charity, and the rest would go to Hopeexist1’s hospital bills.
At its peak, the ‘Pixel Penguin’ collection saw a volume of 110 ETH traded, or US$205,900 (AU$319,200). At the time of writing, the collection has a total trading volume of 215 ETH, or US$403,600 (AU$620,800).
Just trust me bro
One of Hopeexist1’s most vocal backers was Andrew Wang. Wang is an NFT influencer himself best known for his association with the Cool Cats NFT project. In a Twitter thread, Wang shared her’s art to his 189,000 followers and vouched for the legitimacy of her background. Wang claimed that he speaks to Hopeexist1 every day, and even claimed to have spoken to her art teacher to verify her story.
“I’ll put my rep on the line to say this is for real amidst all the scams in our space,” he wrote.
Another NFT influencer, ‘DachsundWizard’, similarly promoted the NFT collection to his nearly 34,000 followers. He even went so far as to reportedly shaming others in his community for not supporting Hopeexist1’s art.
With strong support from supposedly reputable influencers in the space, many in the NFT community began rallying behind the artist. Some purchased bundles of Hopeexist1’s ‘Pixel Penguin’ NFT artwork in hopes to sell out the collection, with the belief that they were contributing to a charitable cause.
One user, ‘WizardofSoho’, who claims to be a former Wall Street trader, even claimed to have minted over 100 Pixel Penguin NFTs. At a reported mint price of 0.0096ETH (US$18, or AU$27.80) each, the former trader would have dumped US$1,800 (AU$2,780) onto this project.
“I had been anxious over money,” “Today has truly moved me,” “I can’t stop crying,” Hopeexist1 told Wang via DM.
However, at the end of May, the artist’s Twitter account was mysteriously deactivated. ‘Hopeexist1’ began trending on Twitter upon her vanishing. Her artist page on sites like Foundation and Bueno were subsequently taken down.
Later, ZachXBT, a blockchain investigator who has exposed numerous large scams in the crypto space such as Soulja Boy’s NFT shilling, revealed that the smart contract behind Pixel Penguin was holding 61.86 ETH in total balance, or US$117,000 (AU$175,000). A majority of the money was later moved to two fresh crypto wallets.
Wang took to Twitter to apologise for endorsing Hopeexist1, and says he had been a victim of social engineering. In simple terms, social engineering is a type of scam where victims are emotionally and psychologically manipulated into giving away sensitive information.
Wang claims that for over a year, Hopeexist1 was in contact with him daily. She would share her artwork and personal struggles in order to gain his trust. Ironically, Wang himself penned a lengthy opinion piece about the prevalence of social engineering on technology publication The Verge.
DachsundWizard, on the other hand, deleted the tweet spotlighting the alleged scammer’s cause. He also tweeted that he, too, fell victim to a sophisticated social engineering scheme. “I feel gutted right now. This is one of the weirdest experiences I’ve ever had,” he wrote.
However, DachsundWizard appeared to quickly recover from the emotional exploitation. Less than 48 hours after the saga, the influencer shared a photo depicting himself as a ‘hero’ after “being taken advantage of.”
Stolen NFT art
At the time of writing, Plumferno, a Trust and Safety employee at OpenSea says the marketplace has disabled trading for the Pixel Penguin collection. OpenSea is also investigating the alleged stolen artwork.
“I deal with this sort of thing on a daily basis,” they tweeted.