Deepfake Musk crypto “giveaways” resurface on Youtube

This problem may be many years old, but crypto scammers still find a way to stream for hours on YouTube using stolen celebrity identities, all while collecting thousands of dollars.

In 2020, crypto firm Ripple sued YouTube for failing to protect users from cryptocurrency “giveaway” scams. Brad Garlinghouse, the CEO of Ripple, was one of the social media profiles scammers used to impersonate. In 2021, the dispute was resolved, and the two companies opted to “work together.”

However, in 2022, dozens of fake Musk streams were found on YouTube by the BBC. The clips on hacked channels were watched by tens of thousands of people over just four days, with crypto scammers profiting a quarter of a million dollars in just a week. Musk said back then that YouTube was not tackling “scam ads.”

It’s June 2024, and users report a new wave of YouTube Live broadcasts running for hours and impersonating Musk.

Last weekend, the stream featuring a deepfaked Musk attracted approximately 30,000 viewers at its peak. The fake Musk appeared in what seemed to be a Tesla event. He encouraged viewers to scan a specially crafted QR code. The code then led to a “giveaway website” where users were prompted to deposit cryptocurrency in order to receive double the amount in return.

Claims that the offer was only valid during the broadcast created a sense of urgency. The stream appeared on the channel masquerading as Tesla, using the name @elon.teslastream. User reports suggest that multiple channels were simultaneously streaming fraudulent content.

The viewer counts may have been inflated by bots to appear legitimate and boost it on YouTube’s algorithm.

On the landing page, the users were invited to participate in the “Biggest crypto giveaway of $100,000,000,” with four cryptocurrencies accepted.

Two weeks ago, the Crypto Times discovered three other streams running simultaneously, with a total viewer count reaching 170,000. The crypto wallets used by scammers had a combined balance of around $34,000.

Avast Threat Labs warned on June 6th that crypto scammers hijacked more than 35 channels on YouTube to spread scams impersonating Musk. Scammers also abused SpaceX Starship’s flight test.

Cybercriminals are going after legitimate channels on YouTube to avoid instant blocking by the platforms. After hijacking the account, crooks usually rename the channel, delete the previously uploaded content, change the design, and upload relevant crypto content.

Crypto scammers target users on all platforms. Bitdefender has warned users to beware of fake Musk Bitcoin giveaways since at least 2018. Previously, TikTok was also flooded with waves of similar scams.