Impersonators of Tesla CEO Elon Musk have stolen at least $2 million in cryptocurrency scams over the past six months, according to federal regulators.
The thefts are part of so-called giveaway scams in which grifters pose as celebrities or well-known figures in the crypto world and promise massive returns on investments suckered out of victims, the feds said. But instead, the scammers pocket the untraceable cryptocurrencies.
The data on Musk impersonators comes from a broader analysis done by the Federal Trade Commission, which says crypto scams have surged since October, hitting their highest level on record in the first quarter of 2021.
The FTC’s report, which was published Monday, found that nearly 7,000 people have reported losing over $80 million in total to cryptocurrency scams since October. The true figures could be even higher since the data only reflects reported scams.
The typical victim reported a loss of $1,900, the FTC said, and young investors, or those ages 20 to 49, were over five times more likely to report falling for cryptocurrency scams than older investors.
The timing of the spike in scams lines up with the surge in prices of some of the biggest cryptocurrencies. At the beginning of October, for example, bitcoin was trading at about $10,900 per coin, according to data from coinmarketcap.com. The price of the crypto ran up to higher than $64,600 in April and was trading at over $45,000 as of Tuesday morning.
“All of this plays right into the hands of scammers,” the FTC said. “They blend into the scene with claims that can seem plausible because cryptocurrency is unknown territory for many people.”
It’s not the first time Musk’s identity has been used by crypto scammers. In 2020, hackers targeted about 130 Twitter accounts, including that of Musk and other notable business and political leaders, to push a bitcoin scam.
That scam, which included the hacking of President Joe Biden’s and former President Barack Obama’s Twitter accounts, suckered in over 400 payments and $121,000 worth of bitcoin, which would now be worth substantially more since the price of the coin has surged.
In that case, the hackers posted messages from the affected accounts that read, “I am giving back to the community. All Bitcoin sent to the address below will be sent back doubled!”
The FTC said Monday that other forms of scams have emerged, as well.
The regulators said some scams are built on referral chains of investors, similar to a classic pyramid scheme.
Other websites, the FTC said, appear as an investment vehicle and even display users’ crypto investments growing over time. But when investors try to withdraw their money, “they are told to send even more crypto – and end up getting nothing back,” the FTC said.
Other scammers have turned to online dating to lure in victims, the FTC said.
“Many people have reported believing they were in a long-distance relationship when their new love started chatting about a hot cryptocurrency opportunity, which they then acted on,” the feds said in their report.
And still others have impersonated government authorities or publicly traded companies to convince victims to send in cryptocurrencies, the agency said.
All in all, 14 percent of total reported losses to imposters are now in cryptocurrency, the FTC said.