So. A non-fungible token (NFT) collector known as Pranksy recently spent $336,000 worth of ETH on what appeared to be the first NFT from Banksy. But the artwork was later revealed as a likely scam, which could have been devastating, were it not for the scammer's decision to return most of the funds shortly after the sale closed.
There's a lot to unpack there. Let's start with NFTs. These are unique tokens indicating ownership of a piece of digital art, provided you use the broadest possible definitions of "ownership" and "art," because NFTs don't impart rights to the original piece and people have sold everything from the web's source code to the first tweet.
NPR has a solid piece with more info about NFTs. The next logical question is "What's a Banksy?" That one has a more straightforward answer: Banksy is a pseudonymous graffiti artist whose pieces have fetched millions of dollars at auction. Combine their fame with the hype around NFTs and $336,000 for their first NFT seems like a steal.
The NFT seemed legitimate because it was promoted on Banksy's website, which also linked to an auction on OpenSea, a popular NFT trading platform. But the page on Banksy's site was deleted shortly after the auction closed, which led Pranksy to believe they might have been scammed by whoever created the NFT in question.
The BBC reported that Banksy's team said "any Banksy NFT auctions are not affiliated with the artist in any shape or form." This suggests Pranksy was right about Banksy's site was hacked to lend some legitimacy to the auction. Not that it made a difference—the scammer returned all but the $5,000 transaction fee to Pranksy.
Just to add a comment, to those who feel this may have been some sort of stunt. I would never risk a future relationship with Banksy or any fine artist by hiring someone to hack their website and then buying an #NFT from myself, what an unusual day!August 31, 2021
It's possible that whoever sold the NFT to Pranksy hacked into Banksy's website, ran the auction, then refunded the $336,000 after word of the potential scam spread. There's certainly precedence for a crypto-related hack netting someone a bunch of money they ended up returning to their victim after getting the public's attention.
But, as Elliptic noted, it's also possible this was performance art about... whatever a secretive graffiti artist is likely to think about NFTs? That could be right: The NFT is called "Great Redistribution of the Climate Change Disaster," and NFTs have been criticized for their potential environmental impact, so maybe that's something.
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Nathaniel Mott is a freelance news and features writer for Tom's Hardware US, covering breaking news, security, and the silliest aspects of the tech industry.