Saliva is dripping out of the corners of a serpentine-tongued man’s mouth, which hangs open in a toothy smile. His eyes lack proper pupils; instead, rainbow dollar signs glow in their place as his fingers wrap around the handle of a bloody chainsaw. It sounds ridiculous — but, for some, images like this one were the start of a real-life nightmare.
Just ask Jacob, who requested Rolling Stone withhold his last name for privacy reasons. When the 26-year-old Londoner heard that infamous rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine had gotten into the NFT game, he says he went all in on these creepy cartoons, spending around $40,000. “It turned out to be a huge scam,” he tells Rolling Stone.
Jacob is a crypto enthusiast and investor who’s been studying blockchain tech since 2017. In late October, social media posts about the 6ix9ine-backed Trollz collection piqued his interest. Upon minting an avatar, the NFT holder was supposed to get royalty rights: Every time Trollz tokens trade hands, five percent of those transactions should go to the original owners.
He was also excited by talk of a game that the NFT developers said they were working on. A blurb on the trollznft.io website describes it as a weekly, 2D boxing game with a prize pool in the “TROLLzverse.”
Plus, the organizers insisted — on both the website and the Trollz Discord server — that giving back to charity was an integral part of the project’s model. Not only did they promise to donate a total of $100,000 to five different charities upon selling out, royalty-holders were supposed to be given governance power, allowing them to “vote on all decision making and what to do with the funds,” according to the Discord, which also highlights “weekly competitions and raffles” — separate from the boxing game — as a “key benefit” to being a part of the community. According to the website, “anything promised on Trollz web/Discord will be delivered.”
Jacob minted 82 Trollz NFTs — and later bought more from the secondary market. He has yet to receive royalties or access to any sort of game. (On Oct. 29, one organizer announced that the game would be finalized in “the next few days.” On Nov. 1 — the last time the game was mentioned on the Trollz Discord server — they backtracked to say it was still “being revised.”) He has not seen a single raffle nor evidence of philanthropy. He also says that a Discord channel for verified Trollz holders has not opened up as promised.
The project never even sold out, and that’s because the organizers suddenly decided to stop minting. When Jacob became a minter, the Trollz team was still telling people that there would eventually be 9,669 NFTs. That number was changed to 6,969 on launch day, October 28th — just about a week into the project’s existence online. Two days later, with 4,797 NFTs out in the world, the ability to mint vanished. What happened to the royalty-holders’ decision-making rights? Jacob, who thinks he might be one of the largest minters involved, has no idea.
The change in plans apparently came as a result of a hack, according to NFT buyers and the Discord channel moderators. “A few minutes prior to our launch, we were attacked and scammers hijacked our server and sent a fake website ending in .com to all channels,” a moderator named Trollz wrote in a still-public post. But based on screenshots of since-deleted Discord messages by a moderator called Vamp, the blitz came from the inner sanctum itself when another one of the project’s moderators went rogue: They “basically took over a bot and tried to ruin the project,” wrote the moderator. According to Jacob, and five other Trollz owners who spoke with Rolling Stone, bots started spamming all the main channels with fake minting links, and many people sent money without getting anything in return. (On YouTube, there’s what appears to be a leaked recording of the moderators’ private Discord channel during the hack: There, organizers can be seen panicking, typing messages to one another like “werr fuckdd,” “WHERE ARE THE LEAD TROLLS,” “DID ALL THE LEAD TROLLZ LEAVE? WTF IS GOING ON,” “IT WAS ONE OF THE STAFF MEMBERS, SMFH.”)
Another moderator called Crazytroll soon promised members that “Danny” — presumably Daniel Hernandez, aka 6ix9ine — would “address the situation soon.” Instead, the musician deleted his Instagram post advertising the NFTs and changed his profile picture from one of the cartoon avatars to a photo of himself. (A business partner of 6ix9ine, who is closely linked to the elusive figure but does not work as his representation, did not respond to Rolling Stone’s request for comment — nor did any of the four of the Trollz organizers whom Rolling Stone messaged on Discord.)
Crazytroll also claimed that the team was refunding the people they say were “scammed at launch,” stressing that they were only including members who followed the dangerous links specifically at launch, but without giving specific a timeframe. (It’s unclear how many people asked for refunds and were deemed too or early or too late.) “Several of you were scammed in the DMs more than 24 hours ago and we can see the transactions,” the moderator wrote on launch day. “We warned the group a multitude of times in the last few days about scams in the DMs,” the post continued, presumably referring to messages that have since been removed. “Please be cautious.” Following the hack, Crazytroll announced that “the best bet for the community is to cap the mints.” The organizers — again, without consulting any community members — then decided to airdrop the remaining NFTs to already-established holders for free. “Just sit back and relax,” Vamp wrote at the time. “You’re in good hands.”
Jacob says this decision felt “really dodgy.” The act of giving away NFTs haphazardly can negatively impact the value of the collection overall, he points out. (Also, as Engadget reports, random airdrops can include malicious NFTs that steal the contents of people’s wallets.)
NFT buyers are like investors. The better the project does, the better they do. They’re betting on the organizers’ long-term plans for growth. But the six Trollz holders who spoke with Rolling Stone think these developers may have just been orchestrating a cash grab — or what’s called a “rug pull” in the NFT world — all along. (A “rug pull” is a “malicious maneuver in the cryptocurrency industry where crypto developers abandon a project and run away with investors’ funds,” according to CoinMarketCap.)
All of them feel confused and full of distrust, especially since the moderators have disappeared: There hasn’t been an announcement on the Discord channel in over a month.
After chaos broke out on the server, Jacob joined forces with other members known as Akiimu Sama, Kap, Louis, Gojo xx, and TrollerRoller — and six others, according to the group — to start their own Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO). However, mass bans from the official Trollz Discord server came after the minting hack. That activity made it hard for them to shed much light on anything within the proper channels. They’ve since started a new server for over a hundred people who were kicked off. Sama is confident that there are more lost Trollz holders out there, but he doesn’t know how to reach them: “We can’t find them because everyone was banned out,” he says over Zoom.
Kap says that the bans started happening shortly after minting closed, as days went by and more and more members started begging for updates. “There were KGB-type things going on,” says Kap, who’s been a part of a variety of Discord servers over the years and has never witnessed such chaos. “We’re sitting there waiting for answers. You couldn’t even type specific words in this Discord channel, because a bot would moderate what you could say. You couldn’t type the words ‘floor price,’ you couldn’t type ‘ban’ or ‘scam.’ If you did, you’d get a message that rejects your message saying that word is not allowed there.”
These bots, called MEE6 bots, are all over Discord, but they’re typically used for commonplace tasks like welcoming new users or notifying users about milestones or social media updates. “The developer must have added code that said, ‘If these words are said, suppress the message, and here’s the message you send to that user.” He says members could get around them by spacing out letters and adding special characters to confuse the bots, but it would only be a matter of time before developers caught on and updated the phrases.
Additionally, all posts prior to the hack were deleted from the announcements channel. “All channels, all messages, everything was gone,” says Sama. “It was like a fresh new server.”
Sama, like the others, says he based his initial assessment of the project’s potential on how many members were in the Trollz Discord server, but even those numbers may have been manipulated. There were about 80,000 members when Sama joined, and there are now more than 100,000. “And supposedly, at the time, there were only like 9,000 NFTs being made — so, if you have 80,000 people interested in that, you would think it’s something you should buy into,” says TrollerRoller. Kap, who has a background in engineering, says he figured out how to check for active users on the Trollz Discord, only to find what looked like a sea of fake accounts. “We did a member scrape on the Discord and only came back with 7,000 active members,” says Sama, who adds that Kap spent a week combing through users five times a day.
As fans of 6ix9ine, the DAO still believes that there’s serious potential for these NFTs to soar in value when he eventually drops new music again. (Following a six-month hiatus, 6ix9ine only released one song in 2021 — and that was back in February.) “I’m a college-aged student,” says Louis. “This was my first NFT and I wanted to take a shot with it. Like a Pokémon card, when you open it, you expect it to go down a little bit and then maybe gain value over time. I expected it to go down a bit, but I didn’t expect this. The moderators knew who 6ix9ine’s fan base was. A lot of people are lower income — or they’re college-level or younger. Losing $400 is quite the hit, especially around the holidays.”
The DAO plans to take the images they own and re-mint them with new smart contracts that actually send out royalties and make donations. Right now, “with any sale, we’re basically supporting these scammers,” says Kap, who assumes that the royalties they’re not getting have to be going somewhere. While they don’t have any plans to design a game, they like the idea of hosting in-person events for Trollz-holding DAO members, making it so the NFTs act like membership cards.
They also hope that their story leads to more regulation in the space. Gojo xx points out that this whole situation feels very similar to what happened with Eternal Beings — the NFT collection modeled after Lil Uzi Vert. (Like 6ix9ine, Uzi promoted that drop for a while before distancing himself.) “Scammers are making promises they’re not delivering on, and they’re doing it like clockwork,” says TrollerRoller. “Every month, some celebrity cosigns something, and people are getting screwed — and there are no legal repercussions for any of this. That’s the bigger issue at play.”