Elon Musk impersonators stole more than $2 million in crypto scams, regulator says

Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla.

Christophe Gateau/picture alliance via Getty Images

Elon Musk impersonators have stolen at least $2 million from investors in cryptocurrency scams over the past six months, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

The theft is part of a so-called “giveaway scam,” whereby con artists pose as celebrities or known figures in the crypto world. They promise to “multiply” the cryptocurrency that investors send — but pocket the crypto instead.

Crypto scams have surged since October, hitting their highest level on record in the first quarter of 2021, according to data published Monday by the FTC.

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That timing tracks with a run-up in the price of bitcoin and other popular digital currencies. Bitcoin was trading at more than $59,000 on March 31 — a return of 450% relative to its $10,710 close on Sept. 30.

Musk, CEO of Tesla, has been a big supporter of cryptocurrencies. In an SEC filing in February, Tesla revealed that it bought $1.5 billion worth of bitcoin. In March, Musk said Tesla would accept bitcoin for vehicle purchases. (He’s since backtracked on that position due to environmental concerns.)

Musk’s company SpaceX also recently said it would will accept dogecoin as full payment for a flight to the moon in the first quarter of next year. Musk has also referred to himself as the “dogefather.”

Bitcoin’s rise may have attracted new investors eager to profit — playing into scammers’ hands, especially since crypto is unknown territory for many investors, according to the FTC.

Nearly 7,000 people reported bogus crypto investments from October through March and lost more than $80 million total, according to the FTC.

That’s about 12 times the number of reports and almost 1,000% more in reported losses than the same period a year earlier, the agency said.

The true figures may be much higher since the data only reflects scams reported by consumers.

The typical person reported a loss of $1,900. Young investors (those ages 20 to 49) were over five times more likely to report losing money on cryptocurrency investment scams, according to the FTC.

Types of crypto scams

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