Crypto scammers flooded YouTube with sham SpaceX Starship livestreams

YouTube is flooded with fake livestream accounts airing looped videos of “Elon Musk” supposedly promoting crypto schemes. Although not the first time to happen, the website’s layout, verification qualifications, and search results page continue to make it difficult to separate legitimate sources from the con artists attempting to leverage today’s Starship test launch—its most successful to date, although ground control eventually lost contact with the rocket yet again.

After entering search queries such as “Starship Launch Livestream,” at least one supposed verified account within the top ten results takes users to a video of Elon Musk standing in front of the over 400-feet-tall rocket’s launchpad in Boca Chica, Texas. Multiple other accounts airing the same clip can be found further within the search results.

“Don’t miss your chance to change your financial life,” a voice similar to Musk’s tells attendees over footage of him attending a previous, actual Starship event. “This initiative symbolizes our commitment to making space exploration accessible to all, while also highlighting the potential of financial innovations represented by cryptocurrencies.”

“…to send either 0.1 Bitcoin or one Ethereum or Dogecoin to the specified address. After completing the transaction within a minute, twice as much Bitcoin or Ethereum will be returned to your address. …It is very important to use reliable and verified sources to scan the QR code and visit the promotion website. This will help avoid possible fraudulent schemes. Please remember administration is not responsible for loss due to not following the rules of our giveaway due to incorrect transactions or the use of unreliable sources. Don’t miss your chance to change your financial life. Connect Cryptocurrency wallet right now and become part of this amazing opportunity. You will receive double the amount reflected in your Bitcoin wallet. This initiative symbolizes our commitment to making space exploration accessible to all while also highlighting the potential of financial innovations are represented by cryptocurrencies. So let us embark on this remarkable journey to financial independence and cosmic discoveries…”

Fake Elon Musk

It’s unclear if the audio is AI vocal clone or simply a human impersonation, but either way oddly stilted and filled with glitches. A QR code displayed at the bottom of the screen (which PopSci cropped out of the video above) takes viewers to a website falsely advertising an “Official event from SpaceX Company” offering an “opportunity to take a share of 2,000 BTC,” among other massive cryptocurrency hauls.

There are currently multiple accounts mirroring the official SpaceX YouTube page airing simultaneous livestreams of the same scam clip. One of those accounts has been active since May 16, 2022, and has over 2.3 million subscribers—roughly one-third that of SpaceX’s actual, verified profile. Unlike the real company’s locale, however, the fake profile is listed as residing in Venezuela.

Scammers have long leveraged Musk’s public image for similar con campaigns. The SpaceX, Tesla, and X CEO is a longtime pusher of various cryptocurrency ventures, and is one of the world’s wealthiest men. Likewise, YouTube is a particularly popular venue for crypto grifters. In June 2020, for example, bad actors made away with $150,000 through nearly identical SpaceX YouTube channels. Almost exactly two years later, the BBC noted dozens of fake Musk videos advertising crypto scams, earning a public rebuke from the actual Musk himself. The crypto enthusiast outlet BitOK revealed a campaign almost exactly the same as today’s scams around the time as the November 2023 Starship event.

Update 3/15/24 12:40pm: YouTube spokesperson confirmed that the company has “terminated four channels in line with our policies which prohibit cryptocurrency phishing schemes.” According to YouTube, video uploads are monitored by a combination of machine learning and human reviewers.

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