Two weeks ago, Niyi Okeowo received a message on his Instagram from Mintable Auction, an account he initially believed to be affiliated with NFT marketplace Mintable, asking if he was interested in selling NFT art on their platform.
Okeowo was one of the artists that exhibited at Art X’s NFT exhibition project titled, Reloading…, and recently sold his art—“Indigo Child”—for 1.2ETH ($4,140), on the popular NFT marketplace, SuperRare.
He was hoping to make bigger NFT sales when he got the Instagram message from Mintable Auction. He was enthusiastic and believed that the message meant his work was gaining traction in the NFT space.
Okeowo replied to the message and was sent a link to another website, where he was asked to place his digital artworks on auction. When Okeowo went to the website, it was down, so he sent a message to Mintable Auction for help. The account told him to stay on the website while they got their customer support to fix the problem. They then asked Okeowo to join a call with their customer support team. On the call, the Mintable Auction team asked him to share his screen with them using TeamViewer—a software that allows the remote control of computers.
Okeowo, under the impression that they were trying to help him, didn’t realise that Mintable Auction is not in any way affiliated with Mintable. He was being targeted by a group of scammers posing as the NFT marketplace organising an auction.
They entered codes that extracted his private key, which allowed them to transfer all of his assets to another wallet. “The next day I woke up to zero balance,” Okeowo told TechCabal in a video call.
Usually, when victims sense that they are being scammed, they quickly transfer their assets to an uncompromised wallet. But because Okeowo wasn’t suspicious while on the call with the scammers, he couldn’t save his assets in time.
Okeowo said he wouldn’t have been scammed if there hadn’t been a “two-minute oversight” on his part. “If I’d just used Google, I would have known they were scammers.”
A Google search with the keyword “Mintable scam” generates, as one of the first results, a blog post by the genuine Mintable. The post contains information on the different scam tactics NFT artists and collectors should look out for—including a warning to artists to never share their screens when troubleshooting issues with their crypto wallets. “There’s no reason that verbal directions alone wouldn’t work,” the post reads.
The NFT market has experienced a boom since its advent, exceeding $10 billion in transaction volume by the third quarter of this year. Unsurprisingly, this has attracted a swarm of scammers.
In the NFT space, the word “scam” can refer to a lot of things. It can mean that the NFTs sold is a random image on the internet without an owner; or impersonators are posing as a popular artist; or, as it happened with Okeowo, an imposter convinces an NFT artist to give up their private key using customer support impersonation.
Okeowo wears many creative arts
Okeowo has worked as a photographer, 3D artist, visual artist, creative strategist, and an animator for almost a decade. The 30-year-old visual artist, who started designing in 2009, describes himself as an art director—for lack of appropriate word to cover the various strands of his practice in graphic design, 3D art, and photography.
A graduate of Mass Communication from Covenant University, Okeowo learned to design by watching tutorial videos on the internet. He worked as an art director on Apollo, the sophomore album of Nigerian Afro-Life artist, Fireboy DML.
In his designs, Okeowo creates alternative virtual experiences by using 3D, bright colours, music, and socio-political themes—especially around mental health, which is a largely unacknowledged reality in Nigeria.
Beyond music, Okeowo has designed experiences, identities, and visuals for a roster of high-profile clients, including Smirnoff, Uber, and LVMH.
During the pandemic, Okeowo co-founded a company, Thrill Digital, that uses Virtual Reality (VR) and 3D to create digital fashion shows and stores. Thrill Digital brings fashion and shopping experiences to its users’ homes by simulating an experience whereby, using a VR headset or personal computer, users can check out and pick up items. With UX and product designer, Ayodele Erinle, as co-founder, Thrill Digital is tapping into the digital fashion trend.
Okeowo also creates colourful illustrations under the moniker @hellomrcolor and shares them on his various social media accounts.
“I like posting my artworks online to keep me active.”
Stuck on both sides of the NFT coin
Drawn to the lack of middlemen in the NFT space, Okeowo was happy to sell his work and get direct compensation without any interference.
Although Okeowo has made as much as 1.5ETH—about $6,500—from one artwork, he has a reservation about the environmental degradation caused by blockchain technology. “I am trying to make sure we’re not part of the problem,” Okeowo said.
He expressed concern about how vulnerable people are because the NFT space is new: “There are a lot of people who don’t know about the space, and that makes them vulnerable to scam.”
Yet, Okeowo appreciates the opportunity blockchain technology presents for artists who have been struggling for years to get funds to complete the projects they have been working on.
When Okeowo’s wallet was compromised by the Mintable impersonators, he lost about $500 and all his artwork in the wallet, including a sold-out Afrodroid, Africa’s first generative project of collectibles, created by Nigeria’s Owo Aniete and containing 12,117 digital artworks.
Instead of selling individual NFT arts, Okeowo is now more interested in NFT projects or collectibles like the Bored Ape Yacht Club, a collection of 10,000s of NFTs sold for at least 49 ether ($208,000) because of their longevity. ”I don’t want to sell artworks on platforms,” Okeowo says, explaining why he prefers collectibles. “I want to create something that keeps evolving.”.
Okeowo explains “Indigo Child” is inspired by children with the ability to harness nature’s power. Citing Black Panther as a point of reference, he wanted to depict how these special children go through a rite of passage to create a spiritual binding ceremony with nature and a panther, as seen in the art.
Dealing with NFT scams
Okeowo is lucky that he didn’t put a lot of his resources in the compromised wallet. But Jeff Nicholas, another artist who was similarly scammed, wasn’t so lucky. In his case, the scammers wiped out NFT assets worth about 150 ETH ($480,000) from his wallet by posing as the customer support of popular NFT marketplace, OpenSea.
The scam technique used on Okeowo and Nicholas is nefarious despite not involving the use of high tech or hacking to gain access into their accounts.
Although the blockchain is also transparent enough for Okeowo to track the wallet and his stolen items using a tool like Etherscan, he doesn’t want to go through the hassle. “I will count my losses and move on.”
His experience with the scammers has, however, stopped him from minting more NFTs because, in his words, “I create work every day for personal therapy, and because it keeps me inspired.”
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