Researchers working at security company WithSecure have released a new report detailing their discovery of a network that encourages the use of web-based apps used for fraud by masquerading as an investment scheme for the cryptocurrency, USDT (also known as Tether).
The network consists of thousands of videos, some of which have received engagement from hundreds of YouTube channels managed by a small group of fraudsters who use the Telegram app for communication and business operations. The group, which researchers estimate has about 30 members, uses automation to copy/paste comments on the videos in an attempt to legitimize the fraudulent apps for potential victims.
While the researchers found over 700 URLs linked to these fraudulent web apps managed by the network, an analysis of associated cryptocurrency wallets indicated that thousands more may be involved.
Potential investors successfully lured into participating in these scams would transfer funds from an existing cryptocurrency wallet to one of the apps. However, the researchers did not observe any transfers from the apps back to the wallets.
“This network seems to be targeting existing cryptocurrency investors with low-quality videos in different languages without localizing them to reach different regions, so I’d say it’s a pretty opportunistic approach,” said WithSecure Intelligence researcher Andy Patel. “This usually results in a large volume of small transactions. But as that volume increases, so do the odds that they will get lucky and find someone who is able and willing to invest more significant amounts.”
Cryptocurrency scams aimed at deceiving potential investors have become a major problem on the internet, especially in social media. According to the US Federal Trade Commission, 46,000 people have reported losing over $1 billion in crypto scams from early 2021 to June 2022, nearly half of which said it started on a social media platform. *
Based only on the data WithSecure researchers collected in the latter half of 2022, it was estimated that the fraudulent apps they discovered could generate well over $100,000 in revenue from approximately 900 victims.
“I don’t think that these particular scams are very profitable. But they’ve clearly figured out how to game YouTube’s recommendation algorithms by using a fairly straightforward approach,” Patel explained. “Moderating content on social media is a big challenge for platforms, but the successful amplification of this content with fairly simple, well-known techniques makes me believe that more can be done to protect people from these scams.”
the report, Analysis of YouTube USDT crypto scamsdescribes in detail how the videos and apps behind these scams are structured, analyzes two associated scam apps in detail, explores the #usdtmining YouTube hashtag, as well as describes the blockchain analysis methodology used on crypto wallets associated with the scams and offers recommendations for YouTube.