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Crooks hijack popular YouTube channels to promote crypto scams

There’s been a sharp increase in fraudulent YouTube streams impersonating Elon Musk, Christiano Ronaldo, Brad Garlinghouse, Michael J. Saylor, and Cathie Wood, among other celebrities.

Scammers exploit video footage of crypto enthusiasts like Musk to drive traffic to fraudulent websites, promising to double victims’ crypto investment, cybersecurity company Group-IB said.

In the first half of 2022, the company’s Computer Emergency Response team identified over 2,000 domains registered to promote fake crypto investments. It’s a fivefold increase in similar fake websites compared to the second half of 2021.

Scammers advertise their promo sites featuring celebrities like the soccer player Christiano Rolando, who became the first football star paid with cryptocurrency – he got 770 tokens from Juventus for each goal scored in his career.

Over 60% of scam domains were registered via Russian domain name registrars.

According to Group-IB, scammers exploit YouTube and Twitch to drive traffic to their websites. Fake streams featuring celebrities get between 10,000 and 20,000 clicks, including bots.

Cybercriminals are going after popular channels to avoid instant blocking by the platforms.

“To set up a fake stream, threat actors either highjack YouTube accounts themselves using dedicated stealer tools or buy/rent accounts on underground forums for a percentage of the stolen funds. [...] The more subscribers a channel has, the more complaints it will take for the platform to block it,” Group-IB said.

After hijacking the account, crooks rename the channel, delete the previously uploaded content, change the design and upload relevant crypto content.

“When fraudsters start a stream, they use viewer-boosting tools to make it to the recommendations of their target audience. On average, attracting a thousand viewers would cost scammers $100, while five thousand are priced at $200,” Group-IB said.

The cybersecurity company assesses that the growth of fake crypto giveaways is fueled by the enhanced arsenal and availability of tools for crypto scammers. Mainly on Russian-speaking cybercriminal forums, they can find hacked YouTube accounts, tutorials, domain names, hosting services, and even hire people to create deepfake videos.

Crypto stream design costs $100-$300, production of a deepfake featuring a celebrity – $30, a landing page of a promo website – $200-$600, and manuals typically start from $100.

Small-time scammers and more advanced cybercriminals band together, allowing them to automate and streamline operations.”

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