A reporter receives a scam tip, reviews the e-mail, checks an address on the blockchain, and figures the balance shown is the take from the scam in progress. Probably the author and most of his peers are guilty of the assumption -- the pseudonymous nature of the blockchain makes it difficult to know right off the top what the real source of some funds are. A recent example involves scams targeting Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, who is the frequent target of impersonations and profile hijacking.
Reports circulated this week that these scams had collectively made more than $175,000 for their perpetrators. However, an overview of the addresses in question brings to light the reality: the scammers might have actually made as much as $175,000 from their scams, though in fact, a significant portion of the funds is likely their own. In the same way that a tip jar might have a few employee dollars to “get it started,” good scammers understand that psychologically humans are more likely to contribute to something they already perceive as in progress -- if others are sending funds, it makes all the more sense to send some.
Two Transactions Out of 19
The address associated with one recent scam has a total of 19 transactions. Of these, many have a similar amount around .001 BTC, a few sent have 10 times that at .01 BTC, and all of these fail to meet the requirements stated on the scammer’s page, which reads: “send from .1 to 1 BTC to get from 1 to 10 BTC back!” Only two transactions in the list actually meet this requirement, indicating that the other funds are unlikely actually to be victims. And, given the close proximity of the transactions to the address, it’s entirely plausible that none of the transactions are from victims. Users who fell for the scheme would have to come forward. Ultimately, those who found these scams through legitimate channels such as Twitter or bona fide ad networks might have some legal recourse with companies serving the nonsense.
As noted by Udi Wertheimer, who took another site to task on this subject, this is a very common tactic among scammers. It makes sense for the aforementioned reasons: if people were to click a link reportedly from Elon Musk and fall for the trick, they’d be surprised that none of the billionaire’s friends or anyone else had sent any funds. He was referring to a more successful group of scams, the vastness of which have prompted Elon Musk himself to take action with the help of Dogecoin creator Jackson Palmer.
The address, 1NCj5V2a8Yp7Wu6wsEWoRZu6togKccgDYz, had just over .06 BTC in it when the first transaction for .1 BTC came in. Again, the close proximity of the transactions -- all in the space of three hours -- makes us suspect the scammer might have netted nothing at all. There are plenty of deep-pocketed people who recently entered the space, however, who might fall for a bitcoin doubling scam once or twice.
A potential way to see if the funds came from themselves or others would be to investigate where they go and see if the addresses are at all connected to the depositing addresses.
This author’s first use of bitcoin was in a Ponzi scheme wherein he lost more than a few hundred dollars. There’s a lot of psychological victimization that takes place in crypto scams, and it’s unfortunate to say that even in 2018 our only best defense is ourselves -- those with the platform giving voice to the voiceless and warning the rest as soon as possible.
Featured image from Flickr/TED Conference