the money game

This 18-Year-Old TikTok Star Wants You to Start Trading With 500x Leverage

Uh-huh. Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photo: @TikTokInvestors/Twitter/Getty Images

It wasn’t even six months ago that Matt Lorion, who has more than a million followers across his multiple TikTok accounts, posted a video apologizing for boosting a cryptocurrency called Mando, a Star Wars–themed bitcoin knockoff — think The Mandalorian — that turned out to be a scam. “I can’t even put into words how crappy I feel right now and how sorry I am for what happened,” said Lorion, a self-proclaimed millionaire who is now all of 18 years old, in his video. “Thank you for understanding. Something like this is not going to be happening again.” The account has recently documented a highly dubious Monday schedule for a trader, a laughable claim about NFT profits (followed by a pitch, of course), and a (cringey) sign that bitcoin prices might have peaked. All are standard fare on the platform.

Lorion is far from a household name, but his shape-shifting as an expert across cryptocurrencies, financial markets, entrepreneurship, marketing, and dating advice makes him a common figure on the screens of any TikTok user even peripherally interested in the hustle-culture lifestyle. Now, just as federal regulators clamp down on the shadiest corners of crypto and the post-GameStop markets, he has moved beyond tokens to push an even riskier bet: online trading through a Caribbean brokerage that lets investors multiply the size of their bets up to 500-fold. While he’s far from the only person out there pushing get-rich-quick schemes on the internet, his reach in a medium often overlooked by regulators points to how difficult it can be to keep fishy financial advice and aggressive pitches from proliferating among uninformed investors.

“Any time I see Matt Lorion, my eyes perk up,” said the man behind @TikTokInvestors, a popular Twitter account that tracks questionable financial advice on TikTok. He still works in finance and asked to stay anonymous because of previous attempts by angry TikTokers to dox him. “That guy is notorious.”

Lorion, who recently graduated from high school in Massachusetts, has already spent a significant portion of his life straddling some of the less reputable ways to make money online. There was his start at 16 in drop-shipping, the practice of setting up an online storefront and profiting off arbitrage. Then there was Elongate, another joke token he boosted in now-deleted TikToks. Just days after saying he would do his due diligence on new crypto, he claimed he was duped again by developers in another coin he helped create and said that he and his team lost money on the deal. (A group of people started a chat room on Telegram to sue him but ended up dropping the idea for reasons that are unclear.) Two months later, though, he posted a video of his move to Miami, showing off his black speckled Tesla and red Corvette: “We’re gonna go for a little ride in the ’vette. Just bought this thing, what was it, three weeks ago? I don’t know a thing about gas cars, but it looks cool, sounds cool. It’s pretty cool.” Through a medium like TikTok, the markers of success are going to be as conspicuous as possible — especially if you’re selling success itself.

Lately, Lorion has refashioned himself as a trading guru. Gone are the videos about obscure crypto tokens, and in their stead are clips of the swoop-haired teenager explaining how to use technical analysis — that is, divining where an asset’s price may be headed based on current chart patterns — to predict the markets. He also appears to be focusing on a bigger game than just hawking tokens: trading itself. “Let’s say you want to do some trading, but you don’t have a lot of money,” he says over an ersatz Macklemore beat. The solution, he says, is leverage, or trading with borrowed money. The company he’s pushing this time is Bluwave, a brokerage that allows for an eye-popping 500-to-one leverage ratio on currency trades, using as little as $10. (That means that for every dollar traders put in, they can borrow $500.) But there’s also extreme leverage for all kinds of other assets. According to the broker’s website, traders can borrow $200 for every dollar to buy and sell indexes, metals, and “energies” and $100 per dollar for crypto. Single stocks have only a paltry 20-to-one ratio. “If you want to ride the wave to better earnings,” Lorion says, “check the link in my bio. Peace!” The danger here, which Lorion elides, is that such extreme leverage also amplifies losses, so if markets fluctuate even a small amount in the opposite direction of the bet, a trader can be wiped out.

What’s left out of Lorion’s 43-second video are some major caveats. “The services of Bluwave and any information on this site are not directed at citizens and/or residents of the USA,” the company says in small, white text at the bottom of its page. According to its terms and conditions, its accounts aren’t insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, so if it goes bust, traders might not be able to get money back. It’s unclear where the customers’ money actually goes, as funds are “deposited with a liquidity provider, which is selected by Bluwave at its sole discretion,” though it doesn’t go on to say who that is. The commission structure per trade is not straightforward at all, though it can take a cut as high as $10 a trade. And unlike, say, a Merrill Lynch branch, Bluwave’s physical presence in the world is elusive. It lists its address in a corporate center on the island of St. Vincent and the Grenadines where Wilfred International Services, a firm that sets up shell companies, is located. (For what it’s worth, unhappy Google reviews point to a menagerie of different brokerages located at the same address.) Time will tell if any of this is enough to pique the interest of financial regulators.

Bluwave is far from alone in offering head-spinning, three-digit leverage ratios to financial neophytes. But Lorion’s latest hustle is coming at a precarious time, with highly leveraged trading for average investors being reined in by both regulators and industry players. Margin trading — another term for leverage — has come under scrutiny, with federal authorities on Tuesday fining a crypto exchange for allowing retail traders to borrow money to trade bitcoin. Larger brokerages like FTX have pulled back on their margin limits generally (including dropping its highest leverage ratio to 20x), while Binance stopped crypto margin trading against three of the world’s largest currencies and also limited leverage ratios.

So who’s behind Bluwave? Lorion appears to be the only one pitching this company — aside from a few mentions on YouTube, it hardly exists online at all. The company’s website is registered by a representative at an IT company called Red Acre, Ltd., but the Beverly Hills address that appears through a domain-name lookup service doesn’t exist. Lorion didn’t respond to emails asking to talk about his career or the company, and neither did representatives for Wilfred or Red Acre. Attempts to send requests for comment through BluWave’s website repeatedly failed.

It’s unclear if Lorion himself has a stake in the company or how he got involved with Bluwave in the first place. But the man behind @TikTokInvestors — who has been scouring the platform for shady advice for over a year now — believes that Lorion himself might be quietly invested in the platform, and he points to the video itself as a major clue. “Typically, the way TikTokers get paid is through affiliate links or they’ll mention, ‘I’m doing an ad. Here’s the social-media stuff — go check them out,’” he said. “He does neither of those things. He says, ‘Go to the website and start trading.’”

This Teen TikTok Star Wants You to Trade With 500x Leverage