‘I lost over $ 500,000 to a fake Elon Musk account’
Sebastian will always remember the time when he lost more than $ 560,000, with equal parts anger and shame.
The night before had been, otherwise, nothing remarkable.
He and his wife watched a series on Netflix, before she went to bed and left him on the couch fiddling with his phone.
Then you received a notification from Twitter with news from Elon Musk.
“Musk tweeted ‘Dojo 4 Doge’ and I wondered what it meant, Sebastian tells the BBC.
“There was a link to a new event below, so I clicked on it and saw that it was giving away bitcoins!”
Sebastian followed the link to a professional-looking website where the bitcoin giveaway seemed to be in full swing.
There was a countdown timer and the website promised participants that they could double their money.
The contest was run by the team of Tesla de Elon Musk, apparently.
He invited people to send from 0.1 bitcoins (worth about $ 6,000) to 20 bitcoins (about $ 1.2 million), and the team would return double the amount.
“Take the most”
Sebastian double-checked the verification logo next to Elon Musk’s name, and then tried to decide whether to send 5 or 10 bitcoins.
“‘Take the most‘I thought, this is definitely real, so I sent 10 bitcoins. “
For the next 20 minutes, as the timer ticked down, Sebastian waited for the prize to land in his bitcoin wallet.
From his home in Cologne, Germany, sat updating his screen every 30 seconds.
He saw Musk send a cryptic new tweet and felt confident that the gift was real.
But slowly the timer on the website dropped to zero, and Sebastian says: “I realized then that it was a big lie”.
“I threw myself headfirst into the sofa cushions and my heart was pounding. I thought I had just thrown overboard my family’s life preserver, my early retirement fund, and all the vacations to come with my children.
“I went upstairs and sat on the edge of the bed to tell my wife. I woke her up and told her that she had made a huge mistake, a really big mistake.”
Sebastian, who asked that the BBC not use his real name, did not sleep that night.
Instead, he spent hours emailing the scammer’s website and tweeting to the fake Elon Musk’s Twitter account to try and get some or all of his money back.
However, in the end he began to accept that the money was gone forever.
More than 200 kilometers away, in AmsterdamWhale Alert analysts had watched in horror as Sebastian’s 10 bitcoins were transferred and then cashed anonymously a few days later.
The blockchain analytics firm has been trying for months to get authorities to crack down on scams, but says nothing is being done.
Analysts use a public ledger that shows the entire movement of cryptocurrencies in real time to spot trends and track money.
They have identified which Bitcoin addresses or wallets are operated by these types of scammers and have tracked the increasing amount of money they are making.
Sebastian’s 10 bitcoins were the most they had ever recorded that had been lost in a single transaction.
Researchers claim that scammers are earning record sums in 2021.
Scam gangs have already made more than $ 18 million in the first three months of this year, a figure already higher than the $ 16 million they made in all of 2020.
The data also suggests that this year’s death toll is going to dwarf previous years.
In 2020, some 10,500 people fell for these types of scams, but already this year researchers say they have tracked 5,600 victims who have sent money.
The founder of Whale Alert, Frank van Weert, says it’s hard to say why scams are not only prevalent, but increasingly successful.
The actual techniques of criminals haven’t changed much since the scams emerged in 2018.
They create Twitter accounts that look like celebrities like Elon Musk or the billionaire investor Chamath Palihapitiya.
In some cases, like the one who cheated on Sebastian, criminals use stolen accounts of prominent people to make sure they have the blue “verified” tick to make the account appear more trustworthy.
They wait for the real accounts to tweet and post a response to make it look like celebrities have posted the scams to their millions of followers.
Twitter is a very popular platform, but gift scams can also be found on YouTube, Facebook e Instagram.
Bitcoin market activity
“We have no data to explain it, but it could be related to the bitcoin market in general. “
“When the price of bitcoin goes up, people go crazy and many of them are new to the market and embrace this idea of fast money,” says Van Weert.
“It also sounds quite plausible that someone like Elon Musk, a huge cryptocurrency supporter, would give away bitcoins.”
“People who fall for scams are not uneducated. We have received emails from people who have lost bitcoins and they are very articulate.”
The specialist also thinks that some of the larger cryptocurrency websites that give away bitcoin to promote their services may have contributed to people’s confusion.
“I am not an idiot”
It’s been three weeks and it’s clear that Sebastian is still really embarrassed.
He begins our email conversation by insisting that “He’s not normally the biggest idiot in the world.”
“I have studied and I have a good marketing job in the computer industry. I live with my wife and two children and we have a nice house with a garden. That night I was greedy and that left me blind.”
The 42-year-old says he first invested $ 40,000 in bitcoin in 2017, and quickly got his money back when the market value of the cryptocurrency increased.
He cashed in and got his initial money back, but then watched with excitement over the years as the 10 coins came to be worth almost 500,000 euros.
Too easy to steal bitcoins
Sebastian wants international authorities to act against scammers and would like the owners of bitcoin exchanges to be proactive in helping.
“It is too easy to steal bitcoins. All the websites of the exchange platforms should know who their customers are and know if a certain address is being used by thieves. “
The most prominent scam of its kind occurred in July 2020, when a large-scale but short-lived Twitter hack allowed scammers to tweet using celebrity accounts such as Bill Gates, Kim Kardashian-West y Elon Musk.
In that case, the hackers stole more than $ 118,000 worth of bitcoin and three people were arrested.
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BBC-NEWS-SRC: https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-56415540, IMPORTING DATE: 2021-03-16 18:50:05