Film Review: “Bitconned” — Digital Scamming

By Sarah Osman

In terms of documentary-subjects-you’ll-love-to-hate, Bitconned’s reptilian Ray Trapani is at the top of the line of bottom feeders.

Cryptocurrency shark Raymond Trapani in Bitconned. Photo: Netflix

I’ve never understood the appeal of cryptocurrency and bitcoin. In 2021, fourteen billion US dollars was lost due to cryptocurrency fraud, up a whopping 79% from 2020. Based on that information alone, I can see why Indonesia prohibited cryptocurrency as a means of payment (although that may change by 2025). Still, while none of the information revealed in Netflix’s latest juicy documentary, Bitconned, surprised me, the roll call of finagling infuriated me — and further cemented my belief in a growing global consensus that crypto is rubbish.

The documentary follows Ray Trapani, a villain so over-the-top he rivals comic book megalomaniacs. Trapani is introduced to us as he is being tailored for a fancy suit. He confesses that for his entire life he has wanted to be a criminal. At first, the blatancy of it all suggests that Trapani is joking. But, oh no, it becomes abundantly clear that he has flimflam in his DNA. That becomes clear as Trapani’s family is introduced: his grandfather supposedly worked for the mob, his grandmother claims she followed gangster ways, and his mother turns a blind eye to it all, refusing to see how awful her son is. We also learn that Trapani didn’t “break bad” once he matured; his classmates recall that he was an oxycontin salesman.

One has to admit that Trapani is consistent: he has no redeeming qualities. He and his equally vile  (and stupid) business partner started a legitimate business, but they immediately spent every cent they raked in. Considering the pair’s evident lack of smarts, it is surprising that the dynamic duo came up with the legit idea: a crypto debit card that allows people to spend their Bitcoin. That’s a reasonable business idea that people might invest in. But, because these two were such greedy morons, they made up a fake corporation, complete with a fake Linkedin profile. They even rented office space.

And the rubes fall for it. As Jacob Rensel, a war veteran who invests in Trapani’s business admits, he wanted to get rich quickly. And when people think they are getting in on the ground floor of a super-sized profitable investment, logic tends to go out the window. Nathaniel Popper, a New York Times reporter featured in the film, claims that Centra, Trapani’s fake business, “is the story of crypto itself.” And he’s absolutely right. Bitconned shows why fourteen billion dollars of cryptocurrency went down the drain: people wanted to get rake in the dough without doing any of the essential due diligence or research beforehand. In this regard, Bitconned serves as a cautionary tale: just because someone says they went to Harvard Business School doesn’t mean they’ll make you a millionaire overnight.

As English playwright Ben Jonson knew well, people are fascinated watching people being scammed. But what kept me riveted to Bitconned was Trapani himself. It may shock some that the reptilian bunco artists served no time for his criminal acts, but I was more intrigued by why the guy agreed to be interviewed in the first place. Is he so egotistical that he doesn’t realize how much damage this documentary will do to his already tarnished reputation? Or did he see being in the spotlight as some sort of sick challenge? Does Trapani realize how much of a sleazebag he is, and if so, does he wear it as a badge of pride? In terms of documentary-subjects-you’ll-love-to-hate, Trapani is at the top of the line of bottom feeders.

Sarah Mina Osman is a writer residing in Wilmington, NC. In addition to writing for the Arts Fuse, she has written for Watercooler HQ, Huffington Post, HelloGiggles, Young Hollywood, and Matador Network, among other sites. Her work was included in the anthology Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences in the Trump Era. She is currently a first year fiction MFA candidate at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. When she’s not writing, she’s dancing, watching movies, traveling, or eating. She has a deep appreciation for sloths and tacos. You can keep up with her on Twitter and Instagram: @SarahMinaOsman

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