Why Elon Musk is the darling of the crypto-scammers…

Why Elon Musk is the darling of the crypto-scammers...

François Manens

05 February 2021

The behaviour of Elon Musk, who has been very talkative these last few days about cryptomonnages, is a godsend for scammers. They trap beginners with simple but terribly effective scams, surfing on the billionaire’s popularity.

At the beginning of 2021, Elon Musk has decided to make a public statement on cryptomoney. As usual, his murals are posted on his Twitter account, his favourite communication channel, on which he is followed by more than 45 million subscribers.

To begin with, on 29 January, the businessman added a « #bitcoin » to the description of his account. That was all it took for investors to see it as a signal that the price of cryptography was on the rise. Bingo: The price of Bitcoin jumped +20% in the next few hours to over $31,000 before falling back down.

The billionaire then spoke on ClubHouse, the voice social network popular with the tech world and investors. Rarely did the (virtual) room fill to capacity: all ears were tuned in to Elon Musk’s words on the subject.

Three days after this media release – and while he had once again announced that he would stop tweeting, but also talking about cryptomoney – the founder of Tesla and SpaceX published a series of erratic messages about the DogeCoin, another cryptomoney. With the same result: the DogeCoin price rose by nearly 50% in the following hours, while remaining far from its historical peak a week earlier, in the midst of the WallStreetBets affair.

If there is one thing to remember about Elon Musk’s media releases, it’s that thousands of people listen to him and react immediately to what he has to say about cryptomoney. This detail has not escaped the scammers, who take advantage of his popularity, sometimes close to that of a guru, to scam beginners in cryptomoney. You only have to go to the comments of his publications to find examples of phishings and other traps imagined by criminals.

Although his image is abundantly usurped, the billionaire refrains from doing prevention, and accustoms his community to eccentric messages on the subject.

I’m Elon Musk, give me Bitcoin.

I'm Elon Musk, give me Bitcoin.

The thugs didn’t wait for the businessman to grab the subject to impersonate him. As early as 2018, the first scam campaigns appear, particularly on Twitter. The modus operandi is simple: the criminals hack into a verified account (or buy one that has already been hacked), one of those accounts given a blue marker by the platform. Then they rename it to « Elon Musk » and display the same profile picture as the account’s photo. If the victims don’t pay attention to the account’s « @ », the number of subscribers or the thread of publications, they may believe it is the real account of the billionaire.

Second, these accounts claim that the billionaire is in a generous mood, and that he will double any money sent to him in Bitcoin to a certain address. A sort of short-term investment, guaranteed only by a tweet allegedly written by Elon Musk. Presented this way, the scam probably seems obvious to you: who would send money to an anonymous address, with no guarantee of return? The answer: many, many people. As the Bleeping Computer reminds us, a campaign of this kind enabled scammers to collect the equivalent of $180,000 in 2018. By January 2021, the scheme was still working, and even better than ever: the crooks pocketed more than $587,000 in Bitcoin.

When the scammers don’t directly imitate Elon Musk, they pretend to have had a public discussion with him on Twitter, with a (fake) screenshot to back it up. Or they publish under his publications phishing links to fake portals connecting to Binance or Coinbase, platforms for managing cryptomoney.

In this context, imagine the jackpot achieved by the Twitter hacker in July 2020, who managed to hijack a social network moderation tool to take control of several popular accounts, including that of Elon Musk. The scam worked so well that Coinbase had to take exceptional measures to isolate the fraudulent wallet.

But the thugs’ use of the businessman’s identity goes beyond his favourite social network. For example, when hackers get their hands on YouTube accounts verified with fake partnerships, they also use them to spread scams to cryptomoney scams. They rename the channel with a selection of words from « Space X », « Tesla », « BTC » and « Elon Musk » and then stream a video promoting the scam.

And if the influential businessman continues his media outbursts on the crypto-criminals, and his worshippers continue to follow his every word, unfortunately, this kind of scam will continue to flourish.

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Why Elon Musk is the darling of the crypto-scammers…
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