Everyone wants bitcoin, even amateur and careless scammers.
Image: Denis Simono/Shutterstock
If you're trying to scam people by impersonating a well-known computer scientist and hacker, perhaps you shouldn't do it in a Slack channel where that very person hangs out. And perhaps you shouldn't use your personal Gmail account to register that fake account.
Yet, that's exactly what happened earlier this week in the official Slack channel of a new a blockchain-based platform called Tezos, where people discuss the technology. That's where a wannabe scammer pretended to be Emin Gün Sirer, a professor at Cornell University, and asked people to send him Bitcoin, promising to give them a stake into the Tezos platform.
What happens next is an embarrassing, and apparently harmless, tale of amateur scamming and doxing.
On Monday, Gün Sirer spotted the scammer and asked Slack channel owner and Tezos founder Arthur Breitman if he could help track him down. As it turns out, the individual had used his real, personal Gmail address to sign up. So Gün Sirer emailed him and messaged him on his Instagram account, which was registered using the same alias and name as the Gmail account.
"My email said 'why are you impersonating me? And what on Earth made you think that you could impersonate a guy whose handle is El33thx0r, and get away with it?'" Gün Sirer told Motherboard. "He thought that, because regular users cannot see the email address, no one could. But the channel owner sees it all."
After initially pretending not to know what was going on, the wannabe scammer "capitulated very quickly," as Gün Sirer put it.
I emailed the scammer as well, asking him to give me his version of the story, and whether he really was trying to scam people.
"What do you want?" the scammer initially told me, adding: "I don't know what you are talking about."
But when I gave him more evidence and context, he suddenly seemed to refresh his memory, and asked me if "Emin" gave me his email. (At that point, I didn't mention the professor's name at all.)
"Why are you impersonating me? And what on Earth made you think that you could impersonate a guy whose handle is El33thx0r, and get away with it?"
He said that he spoke to Gün Sirer as well, and "everything is solved," and tried to persuade me not to write a story, given that he could not see how "anyone could be interested if someone impersonated Emin—we're not talking about Trump here," he wrote in the email exchange.
Eventually, he admitted that he did it to "scam people," but "they banned me right away."
Tezos is about to launch an ICO, also known as initial coin offering, a new funding model for cryptocurrencies that lets people buy a stake in a platform like you would shares in a company. ICOs have begun to make people in the cryptocurrency world skittish lately, since they attract so much investment on potentially thin claims. But there's obviously interest in the potential rewards (superstar investor TIm Draper has expressed interest in the Tezos ICO), so the scammer was trying to play on that.
Gün Sirer said that for him, the story is over, "given that no one lost money." Looking at the Bitcoin wallet the scammer posted in the chat, that appears to be the case, as the only transactions registered in that wallet are from earlier in the month.
Still, this is a good lesson. Kids, don't trust anyone asking you to send him money on the internet. And kids, if you pretend to be someone else, don't do it right under their nose.
Jordan Pearson contributed to this story.
Subscribe to Science Solved It, Motherboard's new show about the greatest mysteries that were solved by science.