Coffeezilla, the YouTuber exposing crypto scams
When Stephen Findeisen was in college at Texas A. & M., a friend presented him with a business opportunity. He was vague on the details but clear on the potential benefits. “It was, like, ‘Don’t you want to be financially free, living on a beach somewhere?’ Twenty-eight-year-old Findeisen recently recalled. After attending a presentation over the weekend, Findeisen realized he was being recruited to join a multi-level marketing firm. “I was , like, what are you talking about? You’re not financially free! You’re here on a Sunday! He declined the offer, but a few of his roommates signed up. They also got a magazine subscription on personal and professional development. One day, Findeisen came home to find copies of the latest issue on the coffee table. “I clearly remember thinking, We have four copies of Hit magazine and no one succeeds. Something is wrong here.”
Findeisen has been suspicious of con artists since high school, when her mother was diagnosed with cancer. “We sold her a bunch of snake oil, and I think she believed it all,” he said. She recovered, but Findeisen had a distaste for people who market false hope. After earning a degree in chemical engineering, he sold houses for a local builder. In his spare time, he began uploading to his YouTube channels, where he put his debunking instinct to work in short videos such as “Corporate Jargon—Lying by Obscurity” and “Is Exercising Worth Your Time?” Initially, the topics included time management advice and pop science tropes, but his content really took off when he started criticizing sleazy financial gurus. Today, her Coffeezilla channel has over a million subscribers, and YouTube is her full-time job.
We live, as many people have noted, in the golden age of scamming. Much of the attention has focused on schemes that target women, from romance scams to multi-level marketing companies that deploy the language of sisterhood and empowerment to recruit people to sell leggings and essential oils. But Findeisen was interested in self-proclaimed financial gurus who target people like him and his friends from college – young men adrift in the post-financial crisis world, wary of the traditional financial system but greedy of advantages. In their exclusive classes, the gurus promise, they teach the secret habits of the rich, or the path to passive income, or the millionaire mindset. Watch a YouTube video like this and your sidebar will fill with suggestions for more: “How I went from BROKE to MILLIONAIRE in 90 days!” ; “How to MAKE MILLIONS IN THE COMING MARKET CRASH”; “How to make 6 figures in your twenties.”
Coffeezilla has become one of the most prominent dissenting voices. Findeisen’s videos featured quick edits, a digitally rendered Lamborghini and bustle culture lingo, albeit deployed with a raised eyebrow. Like Coffeezilla – Findeisen kept his real name a secret for years, he said, after facing harassment campaigns – he dissected the gurus’ tricks: the countdown timers they used to create an illusion of scarcity, their incessant incessant sales. In one of his most popular videos, he spends an hour interviewing Garrett, a man in his twenties who quit his teaching job to take self-marketing lessons from a flashy Canadian. eye-catcher named Dan Lok. As he tells the story of Garrett’s increasingly costly immersion in this world, Findeisen’s expression shifts from joy to bewilderment and genuine anger.
“When I interviewed Garrett, I thought it was an absolute travesty,” Findeisen told me. “And then when I first learned about crypto, it was, like, ‘Oh, this guy lost, like, five hundred grand on Tuesday,’” he said. “Crypt scams are like finding fentanyl when you’ve been used to Oxy. It’s a hundred times more powerful, and way worse. And there just weren’t a lot of people talking about it. Findeisen is an inveterate skeptic.”I always want to go where people don’t,” he said.“I think if I only saw negative crypto material, I would start a pro-crypto channel. But I see otherwise.(Dan Lok’s team has stated that he “refute all claims and allegations made against him by ‘Garrett’ on Coffeezilla.”)
Last summer, as Bitcoin’s valuation approached all-time highs and the world went crazy for non-fungible tokens, Findeisen spent months unfolding the story of Save the Kids, a cryptocurrency project promoted by a handful of high-profile influencers, some of whom were affiliated with FaZe Clan, the wildly popular esports collective. Findeisen’s investigation focused on one of the influencers, Frazier Kay, who promoted the Save the Kids crypto token to his followers, portraying it as an investment with a vaguely defined charitable component that would “help children all over the world”. Shortly after the project was launched, the value of the token plummeted. Findeisen has learned that a crucial piece of code, meant to protect the project against pump-and-dump systems, was changed before launch. (It is unclear who ordered this change.)
In a series of videos, Findeisen collected clues including DMs, interviews with whistleblowers, leaked recordings and photographs sent in by an anonymous source. It tracked funds as they flowed in and out of various digital wallets. Dressed in suspenders and a crisp white shirt, Findeisen sat down in front of what he calls his conspiracy board – a digital rendering of a bulletin board displaying the main players connected by a maze of wires – and argues that Kay had a pattern of involvement in dodgy crypto deals. The Save the Kids series marked Findeisen’s transition from a sarcastic critic of YouTube to something closer to an investigative journalist. After an internal investigation, FaZe Clan fired Kay. The collective released a statement saying it “had absolutely no involvement with our members’ activity in the cryptocurrency space, and we strongly condemn their recent behavior.” In a tweet posted after Findeisen’s initial investigation, Kay wrote, “I want you all to know that I had no malicious intent to promote alt crypto coins. Honestly and naively, I thought we all had a chance of winning, which we just don’t. I haven’t checked any of this with my team at FaZe and now know that I should have. Kay did not respond to a request for comment from the new yorker, but, in a message to Coffeezilla, he stated that he had not taken advantage of the Save the Kids crypto token and explained that “the focus of the project is charitable donation. It is in this spirit and with this intention that I got involved and put my capital into it. In a later video, Kay said he was “tricked” into participating in the program.
When I visited Findeisen this spring, in the tidy townhouse he shares with his wife and two dogs, Barney and Nala, he was preoccupied with another big story. (He asked me not to mention the city he lives in because he’s been doxed before.) This one was about SafeMoon, a cryptocurrency token claiming to be a “safe” investment vehicle that would nonetheless go “over the moon”, crypto language for a dramatic rise in valuation. After its launch last spring, SafeMoon was briefly everywhere – on a billboard in Times Square, and tweeted by celebrities such as Diplo and Jake Paul. (Diplo’s team said the tweet “was a joke.” Jake Paul’s team did not respond to a request for comment.) “You have to understand how important this was,” I said. Findeisen said. “It had a market capitalization of four billion dollars within months of its launch.” Months later, however, SafeMoon had lost a significant percentage of its value. Findeisen has made it his mission to figure out how it happened, if it involved anything illegal, and who profited along the way.
On the day of my visit, Findeisen was posting a video about Ben Phillips, a former member of SafeMoon’s marketing team. Phillips is a YouTuber whose videos — mostly of pranks he pulls on his stepbrother (“VIBRATING pants on my brother in PUBLIC **PRANK!**”; “I stuck beer goggles on my brother! PRANK!””) – have over a billion views. In April 2021, in a tweet now deleted, Phillips encouraged his followers to buy something from him at Starbucks, linking it to what he said was his crypto wallet. Findeisen tracked the transactions of various wallets over the next eight months and found that while in public Phillips was promoting SafeMoon, in private he appeared to be selling it. (Phillips did not respond to multiple requests for comment.) Findeisen told me that people think their crypto wallet transactions are anonymous, but that’s not the case. If you can determine who owns a wallet, transactions are fairly easy to trace. “You don’t need a subpoena, you can just be some random guy in Texas who finds out,” he said.