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The Story Behind QuadrigaCX

Trust No One: The Hunt for the Crypto King - a Netflix documentary directed by Luke Sewell, is a British true crime docufilm showing the story of QuadrigaCX. Once a leading and thriving Bitcoin exchange, the CEO of QuadrigaCX suddenly died while on vacation. Unfortunately, he was the only one with access to the private keys for the funds on the exchange. As a result, when CEO Gerald Cotten passed away, he took access to $215 million with him.

The recent release of “Trust No One: The Hunt for the Crypto King” on Netflix has garnered the attention of the crypto community and mainstream masses alike. The documentary outlines a timeline of events following the rise and fall of the Canadian exchange, QuadrigaCX. The docufilm shows interviews with several characters affected by QuadrigaCX in one way or another. Significantly, the Netflix show highlights the conspiracy theories, rumors, and hidden secrets surrounding the exchange and circumstances surrounding the death of CEO Gerald Cotten. 

In this article, we are going to explore the history and background of QuadrigaCX. Plus, we’ll discuss some of the narratives present in the “Trust No One” Netflix documentary. Finally, we will look at some critical lessons for investors to learn from one of the most controversial events in crypto history.  

For readers wondering whether crypto or blockchain is a viable career option, save our “Why to Learn Web3 Development” article for later. Alternatively, dive right in with our Blockchain & Bitcoin Fundamentals course at Moralis Academy today! No matter your age, experience, or location, Moralis Academy is the number one Web3 education suite. 

What is QuadrigaCX?

QuadrigaCX, a Canadian centralized cryptocurrency exchange, was founded in 2013 and operated by Quadriga Fintech Solutions. During its six-year run, QuadrigaCX went from strength to strength as Canada’s largest Bitcoin exchange. However, in 2019, the QuadrigaCX founder suddenly passed away and took passwords to the funds on the exchange with him. 

Blog - Gerald Cotten at QuadrigaCX

According to DigitalSpy (and other sources), QuadrigaCX was at a financial deficit during the time of Cotten’s passing. When the company later filed for bankruptcy, QuadrigaCX held over $215 million worth of liabilities and $28 million in assets. Following the sudden death of CEO Gerald Cotten, many users of the exchange were skeptical as they watched their entire life savings disappear in front of their eyes. As such, a community of users began their own investigation, sparking the interest of Netflix documentary makers. As a result, the story of QuadrigaCX is making a comeback as millions of people learn about one of the biggest scams in the industry. Also, the “Trust No One: The Hunt for the Crypto King” documentary offers valuable lessons that all investors can learn from.

The original “www.quadrigacx.com” website still exists. However, CryptoQuadriga now owns and runs the site. CryptoQuadriga clearly states on its website that it has no affiliation “with the QuadrigaCX Bitcoin Trading Exchange”.

Centralized Exchanges vs Decentralized Exchanges

Cryptocurrency exchanges are platforms and protocols that allow users to buy, sell, and trade cryptocurrencies. Moreover, there are different types of cryptocurrency exchanges, namely, centralized and decentralized exchanges. While the end-user experiences are similar, there are fundamental differences between these two types of exchange models.

Blog - Differences between CEXs and DEXs

Decentralized exchanges (DEXs) operate on a blockchain with a global network of nodes (computers) collaboratively validating and managing transactional activity. Advantages of DEXs include permissionless and borderless access to the protocol. Also, DEXs are usually cheaper to use as the protocol operates as a peer-to-peer system. Plus, DEXs offer a non-custodial service. This means that users have access to their funds at all times and are responsible for the storage of their assets. However, such responsibility can sometimes be intimidating for newcomers to the industry. Therefore, some users prefer interacting with centralized exchange (CEX) services. 

CEXs typically offer a user-friendly experience and intuitive graphical user interface (GUI), lowering the technical barriers to entry for investing in crypto. On the other hand, CEXs often have quite high fees for transactions. Nevertheless, many people enjoy the ease of using CEXs and are happy for the exchange to be the custodian of their funds. Overall, CEXs offer a friendly onboarding experience for new investors in the cryptocurrency industry. Plus, many CEXs operate within regulatory compliances of local jurisdictions, reducing investor concerns surrounding regulations.

What the Netflix “Trust No One” Documentary Says

The “Trust No One: The Hunt for the Crypto King” Netflix documentary has millions of people talking. For readers yet to have seen the film, it displays painfully honest experiences and transparency into the insights of operations at QuadrigaCX and individual investment downfalls. Crucially, the documentary is brimming with examples of lessons every investor, particularly in crypto, must learn. 

Blog - Tust No One Netflix Documentary Title

The “Trust No One” documentary sets the scene with a walkthrough of the background of QuadrigaCX, previous employees, and friends of the CEO Gerald Cotten. The documentary provides numerous character statements of Cotten from friends, family members, and colleagues. To Cotten’s close associations, he was a “happy guy”, “always smiling”, and “a hard-working man”. 

As the documentary progresses, a timeline of events begins to unravel, simultaneously following the stories of employees and users of QuadrigaCX. The director shows the highlights and success of QuadrigaCX, claiming the exchange transacted over $1.2 billion of Bitcoin in 2017. With a surge in traffic and company understaffing, some users began experiencing issues withdrawing their funds. This is exemplified by Tong Zou, a software engineer who took on debt to buy Bitcoin on QuadrigaCX, who shares his story with Netflix. Then, on January 14th, 2019, QuadrigaCX announced that its CEO had suddenly died in India. A few hours later, the exchange site closed down with a notice from the company stating it did not have access to the funds. Gerald Cotten was the only private key holder.

Naturally, many QuadrigaCX users become anxious when they couldn’t access their life savings. Moreover, a small collective of users communicating anonymously via social media platform Reddit began to believe the entire business was an exit scam. With the legacy enforcement services barely understanding how cryptocurrency and blockchain operate, there began a collaborative community effort to find Gerald Cotten. 

Mysterious Circumstances

There are reasons the online community of Reddit users was unsure about the validity of Cotten’s passing. Below, we outline the narratives discussed in “Trust No One: The Hunt for the Crypto King” that the characters find worthy of suspicion. Spoiler alert: we’ll be covering some of the intricate details from within the docufilm.

Crohn’s Disease 

Crohn’s disease is a chronically painful bowel disorder; however, on its own, it is not fatal. Moreover, death from direct complexities surrounding the disease is quite rare. According to Cotten’s wife, he died due to complications from the disease. It was known Cotten was a longstanding sufferer of Crohn’s disease. Coverage from the “Where Are They Now?” YouTube channel confirms that Cotten lived primarily on hummus, according to those closest to him. An investigator in the Netflix documentary flew to India to speak with the doctor in charge of Cotten’s case. The doctor confirmed Cotten was “admitted with acute symptoms of gastroenteritis”. Less than 24 hours later, Cotten had suffered three cardiac arrests, with the third proving fatal. 

Blog - Gerald 'Cottan' Death Certificate

However, there was no autopsy to confirm the cause of death. Further, the name on Cotten’s official death certificate appeared to contain a typo. Plus, it was only after Cotten’s body was returned to Canada from India and a funeral was held that a public announcement was made about his death. As a result, the duration of the period (over four weeks) between Cotten’s passing and the announcement made raised questions. In addition, QuadrigaCX continued to accept funds from new users throughout this time. Meanwhile, existing users were still unable to withdraw funds.

Blog - QCXINT QuadrigaCX Investigator

Skype Activity

One of the frequently featuring characters in the documentary is an anonymous crypto investor wearing a fox mask, QXCINT. While his personal details remain private, the documentary suggests this figure has connections with some top figures in the crypto industry. Accordingly, QXCINT presents a screenshot of Cotten’s skype account, showing it was active since the date of Cotten’s death. A plausible theory for this could be someone checking Cotten’s account and searching for relevant exchange information. This is neither confirmed nor denied in the documentary. However, the screenshot certainly sparked conversations in the investigation thread on Reddit!

Fraudulent History

The Netflix documentary features an investigative journalist, Alexandra Posadzki, working at The Globe and Mail. Posadzki begins her story by saying she received numerous emails from QuadrigaCX customers saying they could not withdraw funds. Shortly into her investigation, Cotten passed away. However, Posadzki continued to assist in investigating what had happened to Cotten after his death announcement with an online community. 

Blog - Alexandra Posadski QuadrigaCX Investigative Journalist

A large part of Posadzki’s investigation led to the revelation of fraudulent behavior from the only other director of QuadrigaCX, Michael Patryn. Posadzki recognized Patryn as another name, Omar Dhanani – a previous scam artist. The community investigation confirmed that Michael Patryn and Omar Dhanani are the same person. Moreover, his history is as a scam artist for an identity theft ring called “Shadowcrew”, an online marketplace for selling stolen personal identity and credit card information. 

Later in the documentary, Patryn joins the Telegram group of community investigators. To everyone’s surprise, Patryn answered all questions and said he had left QuadrigaCX in 2016. As this coincides with when financial activities ceased to be recorded at QuadrigaCX, authorities do not suspect Patryn to be involved in the case.  

On top of this, further digging into Gerald Cotten’s history appears to yield similar results. QXCINT did some searching into Patryn’s historical online activities, including posts on a scam site called “TalkGold”. Upon further investigation, Patryn frequently worked with a user called “Sceptre”. QXCINT managed to find evidential links that “Sceptre” was, in fact, Gerald Cotten. As a result, this proved Cotten’s criminal behavior with online financial scams from the age of 15.

Empty Hardware Wallets

There is still an urban myth among the masses and authorities that cryptocurrencies are all private and anonymous. Conversely, the transactional movements of cryptocurrencies could not be more transparent. Every movement of every asset in every wallet on a public blockchain (such as Bitcoin) is immutable. That means no one can remove or alter the data. Using public Bitcoin block explorers, Taylor Monahan, blockchain analyst, and entrepreneur began looking into the on-chain analysis of QuadrigaCX’s activity, starting with cold storage wallets. Initial investigations suggested that there never was a substantial sum of funds held in cold storage. 

Blog - Talor Monahan Trust Noone Crypto Netflix Documentary

Monahan soon passed on this information to authorities. As a result, the OSC (Ontario Securities Commission) then launched a full-scale investigation into the movement of funds from the exchange. This investigation concluded that the majority of QuadrigaCX funds had been transferred to other crypto exchanges in Cotten’s own personal wallets. In the documentary, an executive at the OSC says their investigation confirms Cotten lost most of the funds on bad trades using unregulated exchanges. Unfortunately, there is no possible way of retrieving these funds. 

For readers who would like to learn how to use a reputable crypto exchange and store assets on hardware wallets, look no further! Our Master DeFi in 2022 course at Moralis Academy is the best place to start! 

No Proof 

With no hard proof supporting Cotten’s existence in hiding, it is difficult for authorities to pursue any investigation. Also, although it is visible on-chain that funds were moving from QuadrigaCX to numerous offshore exchange accounts, it is not clear what happened to the funds from there. The OSC states Cotten lost all the funds on bad trades. However, Cotten’s friends find that illogical as Cotten was historically successful and “careful” with trades. Also, while some exchanges have been helpful in investigations, others appear as a “black box”, using private blockchains. As a result, it is difficult to trace all the funds from QuadrigaCX. 

Lessons to Learn from QuadrigaCX

Tong Zou, a QuadrigaCX user and crypto investor, faced some difficult truths from which we all as investors can learn. Towards the end of the documentary, he admits he was greedy, which led to him losing his entire life savings. Here are some key lessons to learn from the story of QuadrigaCX.

Blog - Tong Zou Trust Noone Netflix Documentary

CEXs Involve Risks

“Not your keys, not your coins” is a common saying in the crypto community for a reason. Also, “don’t trust, verify!” is a poignant phrase emphasizing the mathematical verification of transactions removing the need to trust third parties. There are many legitimate, regulated, centralized exchanges available, but make sure to do your own research first!

Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket

A common mistake mentioned by several QuadrigaCX users throughout the documentary is putting all their savings into one account. Storing funds in numerous accounts, wallets, and exchanges minimizes the chances of ever losing all your funds in one go. 

Don’t Borrow Money to Invest

One of the worst things to do when investing is putting in more than you can afford to lose. If you need to take on debt to invest, perhaps wait to time the market later when you have sufficient funds. Taking on debt at any time is risky. However, taking on debt to risk in volatile crypto market trading is a recipe for disaster. Tong Zou bravely shares his story of taking out loans to keep up with his friends and how it went horribly wrong. 

Have an Investment Strategy

Overall, having an investment strategy before trading is a great way to help stay profitable in the game. Strategically plan ahead of the desired return on investment, how you plan to do so, and, crucially, stick to the plan!

Exploring the Story Behind QuadrigaCX – Summary

All of Gerald Cotten’s associates are singing from the same hymn sheet. None of his close friends or relatives believe he is capable of faking his own death. Leading up to his death, Cotten appears to be doing well and seems happy to the people closest around him. On the other hand, investigators confirmed Cotten has a history of operating financial scams. Also, the other QuadrigaCX co-founder and director Michael Patryn carry a shady past, changing his name from Omar Dhanani after working with an identity theft ring. 

Investigative journalist Alexandra Posadzki eloquently summarizes the case in “The Hunt for the Crypto King” Netflix documentary. In the closing scenes, she states how it’s no wonder there have been so many conspiracy theories and speculation around QuadrigaCX. “A big part of it is that the story had a lot of strange elements from the beginning. All of these coincidences… inspire the imagination”. The documentary ends by suggesting that the only way to confirm whether Cotten is truly alive or dead is to exhume his body. However, it implies nothing will ever be enough for the exchange investors, believing that a body or DNA found would be part of the conspiracy. What are your thoughts about the story behind QuadrigaCX?

If you’d like to go full-time crypto, Moralis Academy is the best place to start! Check out our free blog bursting with educational posts to get you on your way! With a wide range of articles to explore, why not see our “Polkadot vs Cardano”, “Exploring ApeCoin (APE)”, and “Crypto Backed by Gold” articles next? Or, to take your blockchain learning to the next level, try our JavaScript Programming for Blockchain Developers course, which is perfect if you have zero coding experience! Kickstart your Web3 career today at Moralis Academy! 

ivanontech

Written by Ivan on Tech

April 18, 2022

Written by IvanOnTech
April 18, 2022
Ivan is an international speaker, educator, developer and data scientists. Ivan’s YouTube channel Ivan on Tech has become an international phenomenon, spreading blockchain knowledge all over the world and accumulating over 450,000 subscribers.

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