Cryptocurrency scammers disguise themselves as Elon Musk to steal millions of dollars

·2-min read
Tesla CEO Elon Musk speaks during the unveiling of the new Tesla Model Y in Hawthorne, California on 14 March, 2019 (AFP via Getty Images)
Tesla CEO Elon Musk speaks during the unveiling of the new Tesla Model Y in Hawthorne, California on 14 March, 2019 (AFP via Getty Images)

Elon Musk impersonators have swindled over $2 million from cryptocurrency scams over the past six months, according to data from the FTC.

Thieves impersonating the Tesla CEO has been a consistent problem for some years. This usually occurs on Twitter, where Mr Musk is a frequent poster.

Scammers, who reply to Mr Musk and sometimes mimic him by rebranding other verified accounts, make claims that if users send bitcoin they will return the cryptocurrency two times over.

In 2018, several verified Twitter accounts, including those belonging to UK retailer Matalan and US publisher Pantheon Books, were taken over. "I’m giving 10 000 Bitcoin (BTC) to all community!" I left the post of director of Tesla, thank you all for your support," the hacked account of Pantheon Books stated.

Nearly 7000 people have reported losses of over $80 million in various cryptocurrency scams since October 2020, losing on average just under $1900 each time – an increase 12 times over in the number of reports and 1000 per cent greater in financial theft.

“Some say there’s a Wild West vibe to the crypto culture, and an element of mystery too. Cryptocurrency enthusiasts congregate online to chat about their shared passion. And with bitcoin’s value soaring in recent months, new investors may be eager to get in on the action. All of this plays right into the hands of scammers. They blend into the scene with claims that can seem plausible because cryptocurrency is unknown territory for many people”, the FTC says.

“Online, people may appear to be friendly and willing to share their ‘tips.’ But that can also be part of the ruse to get people to invest in their scheme. In fact, some of these schemes are based on referral chains, and work by bringing in people who then recruit new ‘investors.’”

As well as purporting to be Mr Musk, cryptocurrency scammers will impersonate government authorities and well-known businesses such as cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase. The FTC adds that 14 per cent of all reported losses to imposters are now in cryptocurrency.

The attractiveness of cryptocurrency to investors, and scammers, is a double-edged sword. Although the currency has boomed over recent years and experts predict it is likely to increase further, it is notably volatile.

Mr Musk himself recently crashed the cryptocurrency market after announcing that Tesla would not be accepting bitcoin in payment for Tesla vehicles, only two months after encouraging users to do the opposite.

Meme-based cryptocurrencies, such as Dogecoin, have also boomed recently in a rise similar to the Gamestop stock market rocket. However, the governor of the Bank of England has said that cryptocurrency has “no intrinsic value” and that investors should be prepared to lose all their money.

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