How not to make a fortune with a Twitter scam

By | July 27, 2020
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This week, the technology news is full of stories about scams, hacks and other dodgy dealings.  Some big-name universities have had a load of former students’ details nicked (probably mine amongst them!). An unnamed Premier League football club nearly lost £1m to hackers. And private messages have been copied and stolen from some famous people’s Twitter accounts.

But the biggest news has been about a Bitcoin scam on Twitter and YouTube. If you haven’t been keeping track of the nefarious goings-on, here’s a quick recap of the story so far…

  1. On the 16th July, hackers broke into Twitter’s systems and took control of the accounts of several famous people, including Jeff Bezos (Amazon’s founder), Elon Musk, the rapper Kanye West and his wife Kim Kardashian West, Barack Obama and Joe Biden (the American politician).
  2. They all posted the same thing – they said: “I am giving back to the community due to Covid-19!  All Bitcoin sent to my address below will be sent back doubled!  If you send $1000, I will send back $2000.  I’m only doing this for 30 minutes!”
  3. Coinbase (the Bitcoin exchange that they were using) was pretty quick off the mark though, and blocked their account as soon as they realised what was going on.  But not before they got away with about $120,000.
  4. There have been similar scams running on YouTube, too – with hackers pretending to be the official channels of various famous people.

Given how much work and effort must have gone into that Twitter hack, I’d imagine they’re a bit disappointed to have got away with so little (in the grand scheme of things)!

But it’s understandably left people feeling a bit uneasy.  This was a pretty unsophisticated scam, let’s be honest, but maybe next time it won’t be.  Scams along these lines are pretty easy to spot, though::

  • If someone wants you to pay them in Bitcoin, for anything, run a mile!  There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with Bitcoin, it’s just that there are far easier ways to get paid.  Criminals use Bitcoin because it can’t be traced back to them – you don’t need to provide ID to set up a Bitcoin account like you do with a bank account.
  • If a famous rich philanthropist really wanted to “give back to the community”, they’d set up a fund and do it properly.  And they certainly wouldn’t ask people to send them money first!
  • Any scheme that offers to double your investment within a very short time (without you having to put any work in) should ring very loud alarm bells.

The thing that leaves me feeling a bit uncomfortable about this whole thing is the number of accounts they managed to take over, and the level of control they had over them.  If this had been something more subtle than a money-grab, who knows what sort of damage they could have caused…

People believe what they read on social media.  And celebrities have a lot of influence over their fans and followers.I reckon the lesson to take away from all this is to treat everything you see on Twitter, Facebook or YouTube with a very healthy dose of scepticism!

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