A mother of two is desperate after losing access to $40,000 in crypto; others have thousands trapped. Photo / 123rf
Furious customers of Auckland-based cryptocurrency exchange Dasset say they are unable to access their funds – with the firm unresponsive to complaints.
The Herald talked to an online group formed by disgruntled Dasset customers. Its
16 members (and counting) say they have been locked out of accounts holding between $3000 and $40,000.
One customer who has been unable to withdraw $40,000 after three months of trying told the Herald she was the mother of two young boys.
“This was our entire life savings, [which] we were counting on, and now we are facing a very dire situation,” she said.
Suppliers and minority shareholders are also out of pocket. Customers and suppliers have not been able to reach shareholder, CEO and sole director Stephen Macaskill for months.
In a text message to the Herald last night, Macaskill said, “Dasset has gone into voluntary liquidation.”
He added, “Dasset has not had stable banking since January. The banks do not like the crypto industry.”
The Herald understands Dasset’s incumbent banking provider pulled its service in January, with the company unable to gain a replacement.
Macaskill did not respond to follow-up questions. The apparent liquidation process has yet to appear on the New Zealand Gazette or other official channels, and there is no notice on Dasset’s website, which is still soliciting new sign-ups. Customers the Herald spoke to had not been informed.
But the Herald understands there was an extraordinary meeting of shareholders on August 7 where Macaskill (the largest shareholder, with a 40 per cent stake) was pressed for information. After he failed to provide answers, according to an investor familiar with events, a resolution was passed to appoint a voluntary liquidator.
Agustin (Leo) D’Ambrosio, who works in the IT industry in Wellington, told the Herald he had around $20,000 worth of the cryptocurrency Ethereum trapped with Dasset. For the past five months he, like the customers above, had been seeing a “user is disabled” message when he tried to log on.
When he emailed tech support – because phone numbers had been removed from Dasset’s site – responses first cited unspecified “technical issues”, “banking issues” and “unforeseen complexities” which the firm said would take several weeks to resolve. More recently, responses have stopped altogether.
One customer who could not access an account holding the equivalent of $6000 in Bitcoin said she received the funds after complaining to Macaskill – but also that she was never able to regain access to her Dasset account. She said the CEO direct-credited $6000 to her bank account.
Another member of the group had been trying to withdraw funds of just under $5000 since April 26.
“This has been a slow-moving train wreck for many months. I have Bitcoin on the exchange and have been completely ghosted by the company,” one customer said. His last response was in June.
Another complained, “It’s unacceptable that they appear open for business as usual.”
Dasset has not published any information on its customer numbers.
An unpaid tech supplier told the Herald the exchange had signed up around 30 new customers a month over a three-year period.
Membership of Ombudsman scheme ‘terminated’
Dasset (registered as Digital Asset Exchange) promoted that it was a member of the Insurance and Financial Services Ombudsman (Ifso) Scheme.
Several members of the disgruntled customer group had lodged complaints with the Ifso.
The Herald has sighted a series of emails from the Ifso to Macaskill. One notes that he promised to unlock a customer’s account by 6pm on July 12 but did not.
Another, on July 24, said it was the third escalation of a customer’s complaint since May, and requested he contact the complainant by close of business on July 25.
Shortly afterwards, the customer was sent an email by the Ifso saying, “The Insurance and Financial Services Ombudsman (Ifso) Scheme has recently terminated Dasset’s participation in the Ifso Scheme.” The agency could no longer help, given Dasset was no longer a member.
Was Dasset kicked out? A spokeswoman for the Ifso told the Herald, “Unfortunately, we cannot comment other than to say Dasset is no longer a participant of the Insurance and Financial Services Ombudsman Scheme (Ifso Scheme). Any further enquiries should be directed to the Financial Markets Authority.”
On the face of things, Dasset’s withdrawal (or ejection) from the Ifso put it foul of NZ’s financial sector regulator.
The Financial Markets Authority (FMA) website says, “New Zealand-based trading platforms must belong to a dispute resolution scheme”.
An FMA spokesman said the authority could not comment further at this point beyond what the Ifso had said.
Minority shareholder says he’s ‘in the same boat’ as customers
Crypto entrepreneur Fran Strajnar, who is a minority investor in Dasset (through a direct 2 per cent stake, and as one of the shareholders in crypto investment firm Techemy, which has a 33 per cent stake in Dasset) told the Herald he was in the same boat as angry customers.
“I have $230,000 stuck on the platform,” Strajnar said.
The investor said he had offered Macaskill advice and support in Dasset’s early days (the firm was registered in 2015) but he had not had any active involvement since 2020 and had never had an operational role. He resigned as a director earlier this year.
When he spoke to the Herald earlier this week, Strajnar had not heard from Macaskill for days.
US partner files for bankruptcy
In June 2020, Dasset announced a partnership with the Seattle-based Bittrex – at the time, one of the largest cryptocurrency exchanges in the US.
“We are excited to establish a partnership with Bittrex – one of the most trusted and liquid digital asset exchanges in the world. Traditionally, Australasian investors have had difficulty accessing digital assets due to the high fees and low liquidity amongst exchanges. With this partnership, Dasset and Bittrex can bring international standards to the Oceania region in terms of pricing, fees and selection.” Macaskill said at the time.
“Dasset’s vision is to support a sound financial system by empowering individuals with access, choice and sovereignty over their wealth – and with Bittrex’s commitment, we are now one step closer to fulfilling this.”
Bittrex filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on May 5 this year. The firm claimed the regulatory environment in the US had become overbearing in the wake of the FTX scandal that saw founder Sam Bankman-Fried jailed last week for defrauding users out of his exchange out of millions and attempted witness tampering.
Macaskill did not respond to questions about any of the impacts of partner Bittrex’s problems.
FMA ‘aware of issues raised’
Complainants to the Ifso were referred to the FMA.
A spokesman for the regulator said, “The FMA generally does not comment on whether or not it is investigating specific entities. However, it is aware of issues raised in your query [on customers being unable to withdraw funds, and Dasset not responding to complaints]. We are unable to provide any further comment at this stage.”
Three Dasset customers told the Herald they had emailed the FMA over June and July, but so far had only received an auto-response acknowledging that they had been in contact with the financial sector enforcer.
Tech supplier ‘not paid’
OriginID was previously featured on Dasset’s site as a partner. The Auckland firm makes “on-boarding software” that helps a service provider sign up and register new customers.
Founder and CEO David Langeveldt said, “We provided a solution to verify their customers for a number of years, but we have not been able to get in touch with them for the last 12 months. They have not paid any bills or responded to any communications from us.”
“We terminated the agreement seven months ago, but are still owed money by them – by no means near as much as I suspect some of the people that had money with them.”
The Ifso said it could not comment on any of the complaints, or the circumstances under which Dasset left the Ifso, because it was no longer a participant.
Dasset’s home page carries a message that it is “supervised by the New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs (DIA)”.
The DIA referred questions to other agencies.
A DIA spokeswoman said, “Dasset is supervised for AML/CFT purposes only under the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism Act 2009. It is important to note that the department, as the AML/CFT supervisor, does not regulate or respond to consumer complaints.”
The FMA said it had no further comment at this time. The regulator’s general advice is that “cryptocurrencies are high-risk, speculative product” (read the FMA’s full advisery here).
Dasset’s central Auckland office was locked and empty when the Herald visited. The Herald also visited the apartment building listed s Macaskill’s most recent address on the Companies Office, in a filing dated August 7. The building manager said the Dasset director had moved out three months ago.
Chris Keall is an Auckland-based member of the Herald’s business team. He joined the Herald in 2018 and is the technology editor and a senior business writer.