Bitcoin scammers are impersonating Elon Musk and Donald Trump on Twitter to steal cryptocurrency
The cybercrooks use fake celebrity social media accounts to dupe people into sending small cryptocurrency donations in return of a chance of being sent thousands back.
It’s a classic online scam that echoes back to the days of those emails from farcical Nigerian princes, who would beg for a small amount of cash and promise multi-millions in return.
They may seem obviously fake, but today’s savvy fraudsters have already reportedly raked in thousands of Bitcoin within less than a week, according to Wired.
The new scam, which first started growing traction on February 1, sees fraudsters set up Twitter handles that closely mimic verified accounts of well-known figures.
So far, they’ve included Tesla founder Elon Musk, software company tycoon John McAfee and Ethereum cofounder Vitalik Buterin.
Josh Emerson shared screenshots of data showing up to 1,200 bots amplifying fake Elon Musk tweets touting the cryptocurrency scheme.
They work by responding to a genuine tweet from one of those verified users, which gives an appearance of starting a thread where they can interact with other users.
The attackers will claim that they will send a significant quantity of cryptocurrency – as little as two Bitcoin – to anyone who sends a smaller amount of the currency to a particular wallet.
Crane Hassold, a threat intelligence manager at security firm PhishLabs, told Wired: “It’s like a social media impersonation mixed with a classic Nigerian prince scam.
“Twitter will likely start blocking the accounts making the posts, but the level of effort needed for this scam is so low that it’ll probably be a cat and mouse game, and the return on investment at the beginning will be pretty good for the actor.”
An example included a fake John McAfee tweet, which promised 20 bitcoin for every 0.02 received, and reportedly collected 0.184 bitcoin (£1084) within hours.
Marie Vasek, an associate professor who has studied bitcoin scams, told Buzzfeed: “People actually do fall for this, and sometimes they fall for it twice.”
She added that the scheme is so attractive to scammers because once that virtual coin is sent to a wallet there is no way of getting it back or finding the person who took it.
Unfortunately, it means that Bitcoin holders will mostly have to keep their wits about them while on social media.
Bitcoins meteoric rise in value last year has been followed by an equally dramatic plunge and at publication was trading at £5,862 ($8,188) – down from the previous day by 1.94 per cent.