Almost exactly one year after its infamous data breach, Rob Monster and Epik are embroiled in yet another series of major controversies that have also hurt a lot of innocent people and are the direct result of Rob Monster’s dishonesty and poor ethics.
After the publication of the previous entry in the Epik Saga, CEO of Providence Post Derek Peterson was contacted by several sources , who, after being cross referenced and verified, shed light on Epik’s financial situation and the real story behind Rob Monster’s billionaire benefactor. According to the sources, Monster received a $32 million dollar investment in exchange for minority common stock with no board seat and for Epik to develop and maintain a social networking app. The investors gave Monster $16 million up front, much of which Monster used to pay off personal debts and remodel his house, which the investors were unsurprisingly upset about. Monster also used his new found large bank roll to start many new projects with no clear focus on Epik’s core business and purchased several other businesses like Terrahost37, all in a relatively short period of time. Monster began missing deadlines for the social networking app he had committed to build for his investment partners and then the hack occurred. The investors saw the many reports, hopefully our articles were among them, coming out about Epik and Monster’s many false and very odd claims, which caused the investors to lose confidence and demand to see Epik’s financials in more detail. They subsequently cancelled their agreement and threatened to file fraud charges if the money wasn’t returned, however Monster had already spent most of it. They eventually came to a settlement some time around mid 2022, wherein Monster was required to pay back $8 million of the $16 million and turn over whatever tech and infrastructure Epik had developed on the investor’s behalf34. For further details on the investment deal and settlement please see screenshot below.
Derek Peterson reached out to the investment company to get their side of the story but they politely declined to discuss anything to do with Epik or Rob Monster. He also reached out to Rob Monster who said, in his best prophet voice: “I am aware of your activities, Derek, judgement is coming for you” and when Mr. Peterson asked him to clarify what he meant exactly by “judgement”, Monster replied by saying “you should expect to hear from my attorneys”. Rob Monster has threatened to sue Mr. Peterson more than a dozen times over the years and insinuated worse. He has even tried to intimidate website owners with legal action where Peterson and others would rebut Monster’s false claims about his products and services but Monster has always refused to calmly sit down to discuss the concerns others have had about his products and services and many, now well proven and even confessed, false claims.
Below are two pdfs that Monster has been using to attempt to deceive investors into thinking Epik and its cheap, white-labeled services are worth $160 million.
When one looks past Rob Monster’s bluster, it becomes evident that Epik was a house of cards built on sand that struggled financially even before the hack. In 2019, during an argument Rob Monster was having with the CEO of Escrow.com Matt Barrie, Barrie claimed knowledge of Epik having less than $50,000 between its bank and Paypal accounts as of 2018. He knew this because Monster sent him Epik’s financial information while trying to pitch selling the business, without any kind of serious purchase discussions or confidentiality agreement in place. Barrie specifically mentioned how Epik lacked the funds to pay out everyone who bought Masterbucks 26, Epik’s escrow tokens which can be used to purchase other Epik products and services or converted back into USD after an escrow transaction is completed. We learned from Barrie’s posts that not only was Epik running some sort of ponzi scheme but also that, in spite of Mr Monster’s claims of being committed to supporting the fight for free speech long term, we discover that he has been actively and desperately trying to sell Epik for many years and his free speech talk was nothing more than a schtick used to pump and hopefully dump Epik.
Two years after their exchange, Barrie’s warning that Epik lacked the funds to exchange Masterbucks for USD to pay out all customers, started to be proven accurate when many Epik Escrow customers began complaining about not being paid after their escrow transactions were completed. Shortly after the escrow issues started to surface Rob Monster stepped down and appointed Bryan Royce as the new CEO on Sept. 2, 2022. Earlier in the year Monster had already began letting many key Epik employees go and backing out of consultant agreements, one of those consultants is currently suing Epik for $750,00035.
On September 20th, 2022, a user of the NamePros domain investor forum made a post detailing how Masterbucks, Epik’s payment platform used to pay users their funds once out of escrow, declined his payment request and disabled the fund withdrawal button, effectively freezing the user’s account. The user contacted Epik’s “legendary” customer service and Chairman of Epik’s Board Rob Monster himself, but nothing was done to fix the situation1. Other users, both on Namepros and Twitter, began posting similar accounts of their inability to withdraw from Masterbucks, reporting that they had been waiting for their payment for weeks or more while Epik’s customer service told them to wait to be contacted4 6. Masterbucks.com subsequently went down for “maintenance”7.
Learning nothing from its abysmal treatment of customers during the hack event in 2021, Epik refused to acknowledge the problem. Despite Namepros having more than 30 users with an Epik badge8 and Monster regularly interacting with the forums in the past, it took until September 26th for Epik’s Project Manager Tony Blessed to enter the thread and “acknowledge” the original poster’s concerns. Blessed claimed that Masterbucks cashouts weren’t happening because the site was undergoing maintenance. He then disappeared from the thread entirely30, but was still active on twitter29.
This lack of a meaningful response lead many to give up on Epik making the situation right and they started looking towards taking legal action10. On September 29th, Domain Name Wire reported that Epik’s new CEO Brian Royce gave the date of October 10th when Masterbuck’s maintenance would be finished and payments would be processed, and that the maintenance was to “improve the system” and make it a competitor to Paypal 3.
Around this time, 1 star negative reviews began proliferating on Epik’s Trust Pilot page, all complaining about the inability to withdraw funds for weeks and Epik customer service’s lack of response. Several received replies from Epik, telling them to start a support ticket or blaming the issue on “maintenance”, while others were flagged and removed by Epik for containing “harmful or illegal content” 12. Sticking to the same script as the data breach response, Monster tried threatening those bringing Epik’s issues to light as well.
One Epik customer, Aman Saifi, who had $25,000 trapped in Masterbucks, reported being in extensive contact with Monster and Epik’s new CEO Brian Royce yet was still unable to withdraw his funds. Saifi emailed Royce and Monster requesting a manual transfer of his funds, reasoning that since Masterbucks was essentially just Epik’s digital wallet, his money could just be wired to him without needing to use the service. The request was rejected by Royce, though Monster replied claiming that his request was under “expedited review”. Monster then accused Saifi of harassment because of the negative review he left on Trust Pilot. Later, during a video conference, Saifi claims Monster threatened him and demand he take down the review in exchange for receiving his funds before October 10th. Saifi removed his review, but had yet to see his funds returned to him 11 13.
Somewhat placated until the 10th, Epik customers were disappointed when only a few were able to withdraw their funds…on Tuesday the 11th 14. It was apparent that the “maintenance” Masterbucks went through evidently did nothing to improve the situation, as customers are currently still having issues getting their money, with Masterbucks claiming that withdrawals are being paid out on a “first come first serve” basis and only during business hours Monday through Friday22. Some noticeable changes to Masterbucks were new withdrawal fees16 17 and a terms of service that contained clauses like: “MB does not warrant that the Services will be uninterrupted, timely, secure, or error-free”. This infuriated customers, who complained of not being allowed to opt out before these changes were made19 21, with the original poster vowing to never do business with Epik again20.
As of October 14th, many customers still haven’t received their funds from Masterbucks 13 23, including John Rampton, an online influencer with 1.2 million followers on twitter. Rampton posted a one star review of Epik on Trust Pilot, detailing how he’s done business with Epik and Monster in the past and has been waiting on a $400,000 withdrawal from Masterbucks since early September. He explained how he texted Monster personally for help, who redirected him to Royce, who first tried blaming the bank before claiming that there was less than $200,000 in the account. He finished the review stating that he was “gathering the evidence of misuse of [his] escrow funds” and warned others to not use Epik’s escrow services or Masterbucks24.
Throughout the rest of October, more and more customers were complaining about the financial difficulties Masterbucks was causing them33
…and the negative reviews continued piling up on Trust Pilot.
Eventually, some customers including the original poster31 and Saifi32 were reporting on getting their money back, albeit with very high fees. Many of the payouts were small amounts, but on October 20th Rampton updated his Trust Pilot review, adding: “After 50+ days and 100s of texts with Epik founder and Epik CEO we received a wire on Oct. 18th”.
On October 24th, the Domain Name Wire podcast released a 44 minute interview with Royce in which he spent the first half regurgitating Monster’s libertarian views on free speech and the rest responding to the Masterbucks situation.
Royce blamed many of the problems on Monster not “dotting all the Is and crossing all the Ts” and claimed to be in the process of actually getting an escrow license for Masterbucks. When asked if the escrow funds were held in a separate account or used to fund the business, Royce replied that the money had been “comingled” and that the separation of operations between Epik’s escrow service and Epik itself “wasn’t there”36.
This revelation confirmed the suspicions of many that Epik was using escrow funds that it was entrusted with to pay operating expenses, repay its former investors and legal debts and even Monster’s personal expenses, a complete and utter violation of the concept of escrow, not to mention a serious crime. Despite his complete disappearance from social media, Monster appears to be aware of the seriousness of the situation as he formed a Masterbucks LLC in Wyoming to probably build a firewall between Masterbucks and Epik38.
As his house of cards continued to collapse, Monster desperately tried to prevent people from converting and withdrawing their Masterbucks funds, offering some customers interest returns on their holdings and adding fees for withdrawing, which customers had not agreed to when they originally signed up and weren’t given the option to opt out.
Luigi from DomainEmpire posted a review on Trust Pilot detailing his experience with these measures. He wrote that he had worked well with Monster for years and had four accounts at Masterbucks, and when they began experiencing issues withdrawing their funds, Monster offered 6% yearly interest in exchange for keeping their $1.5 million balance in Masterbucks. Most of DomainEmpire’s funds had been converted to bitcoin at this point, but in late October, without their consent, Epik had reconverted the funds into USD and then back into Masterbucks. This was when the site went “under maintenance” and reopened with the added withdrawal fees, which Luigi noted was a strategy to discourage customers from withdrawing funds. His request to withdraw was ignored anyways. Luigi then promised legal action and wrote that there was a scheduled meeting between a paralegal and Royce, but the Epik CEO didn’t show up and ignored any further attempts at contact.40
Later, Epik sent an email to customers claiming that the new management was able to take Masterbuck’s balance from $4.5 million to $800,000, a claim many were skeptical about since DomainEmpire still had not received its $1.5 million. DomainNameWire reached out to Royce, who claimed ignorance of Masterbuck’s debt to DomainEmpire, but admitted that the $800,000 number was incorrect as a new $300,000 debt had just been discovered50.
In early December, Epik customer Kathleen Kalaf posted a 1-star review of Epik on TrustPilot detailing how she’s been waiting on receiving the proceeds of a $100,000 transaction that she needs to retire on. Epik replied asking her to remove her review, telling her that she was now waiting on Masterbucks for her money and not Epik.
Epik’s reply made DomainNameWire podcast host Andrew Allemann “hot under the collar” enough to spend an entire segment of his December 5th show summarizing Epik’s behavior and troubles, describing its customers as victims, and exposing Monster’s original plan for Masterbucks to be a 1031 exchange to save money on taxes. Section 1031 of the tax code allows for capital gains from real estate sales to be deferred to a new property. Monster reasoned that it could also be applied to domains and used the tax sheltering opportunity as a selling point for Masterbucks until the IRS clarified that it only applied to real estate, which didn’t immediately stop Monster from still making the claim49.
From what we have seen so far from both public posts and private sources that have asked to remain anonymous for fear of not getting paid or other retaliations from Monster, there is about $3,000,000 still in unpaid Masterbucks, much of which was straight up stolen from users’ accounts. We are learning about new victims every day so the figure is possibly much larger.
Rob Monster’s shady business practices extend beyond Epik’s escrow services. DNProtect, a venture created by Monster and Bill Hartzer, was originally described by Monster as being “an insurance product” 41. Despite admitting to needing regulatory approval before it was launched45, Monster advertised DNProtect as domain insurance until domain lawyer John Berryhill claims to have alerted the Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner. He reported to them that DNProtect was offering unlicensed domain insurance, pointing to terms like “warranty” and “domain risk solution” the company used to skirt around using the word “insurance”46. This perfectly fits Monster’s modus operandi of creating and hyping up businesses in regulated markets without going through the proper channels, just like Royce admitted Monster had done with Masterbucks not acquiring an escrow license.
In early December on the Masterbucks Namepros thread, DNProtect’s Director Bill Hartzer posted claiming that he had a partnership with Monster and that Epik had no “ownership stake” in the company47 and also claimed that despite not being funded “in the traditional sense” it was “profitable”48. Upon further investigation it was revealed that DNProtect was yet another Wyoming LLC associated with Monster (with its principal and mailing address being in Monster’s town of Sammamish, Washington) and that it had been delinquent on its taxes since September 2022 before being dissolved two months later in November42
As the walls continue to close in around Rob Monster and Epik, we will continue to follow the Epik saga and will update this article as soon as any major developments happen. For background on Epik and Rob Monster kindly visit our previous article A Monster of Epik Proportions.
In conclusion, it is the opinion of the writer that Rob Monster has been running several ponzi type schemes within Epik for many years which he has been fighting to keep solvent by acquiring new customers and coming up with new schemes in order to keep solvent. He’s been desperately trying to find a buyer or investor and was finally able to find one but that investor quickly figured out that Epik was all smoke and mirrors and Monster was not an honest man and demanded their money back. The collapse of that scam, combined with Monster’s reckless and greedy personal spending spree has revealed Epik’s other schemes. This financial trash fire combined with their poor security and lack of concern for customers’ data and money should be a giant red flag for anyone thinking of doing business with them.