Vitalik Buterin. Vitalik Baterin. Vitalk Buterin.
Do you spot the differences?
- The first instance is the correct spelling of the first and last name of the creator of Ethereum.
- The second instance is an example of a single letter replacement.
- The third instance is an example of a single letter deletion.
Late last month, the real Vitalik Buterin voiced his concerns about the abundance of fake accounts on Twitter.
Note: "TIL" is Internet slang for "today I learned."
The Damerau-Levenshtein distance refers to the minimum number of operations required to transform one word into another. This can be accomplished through insertion, deletion, substitution, or transposition. What Buterin attests to here is that his name is susceptible to a wide variety of minor manipulations. That, in conjunction with his prominence in the cryptocurrency world, has made Buterin a target for online impersonation.
The Anatomy of a Scam Account
A Fake Handle
Here, an imposter replied to a tweet by the real Vitalik Buterin. If you look closely, you'll see that the handle @VitalikButerjm discreetly replaces the last two letters. Instead of "-in," the scam account uses "-jm." If you glance at these letters quickly though, your eyes might play a small trick on you.
Also note that the phony handle is missing the blue verified badge that Twitter uses to signify the authenticity of high-profile accounts.
A Doctored Photograph
The fake account also includes a doctored photograph of Vitalik. In June 2017, when Buterin was briefly rumored to be dead (after a hoax by 4chan), he posted a humorous "Proof-of-Life" selfie. Unfortunately, that image has been altered and repurposed in order to carry out a scam.
A Wallet Address
Perhaps the most obvious sign that this is a scam is the desperate plea for money – and blatant posting of a wallet address. Fortunately, based on a search of EtherScan, it looks like nobody has sent money to this particular scam artist.
A Fake Handle
The handle affiliated with this tweet is a slightly modified version of Vitalik's name. You might need a magnifying glass to catch the "e" hidden in "@VitaleikButerin." Again, no verification badge.
A Time Constraint
This dubious promotion, wherein the account promises to send ten times as much Ether to participants, attempts to draw interest through a "limited" opportunity. Only the "first 200 senders" will get the ETH! Don't be fooled by this charlatan.
A Wallet Address
Like the first scam post I examined, this reply also includes a wallet address. And fortunately, once again, it looks like nobody fell for the trap yet. The account balance is zero and no transactions have been sent or received from the wallet, according to EtherScan.
The Finer Details
If you hover over the account (which even copied Vitalik's new Twitter profile picture, you will discover that only one tweet has been sent by this handle. Furthermore, the account only has 28 followers and joined the network in September 2017.
How Do You Protect Yourself?
Make sure the people you're placing your trust in are who they claim to be.
Look for verified accounts. Check whether the account was created recently. Carefully examine the account handles for any misspellings (not just the purported name). Consider whether the statements from the account align with views previously expressed by that person.
And, simply consider whether the information – or promotion – is just unrealistic. As CFTC chairman J. Christopher Giancarlo said during his testimony before the Senate Banking Committee, if it sounds "too good to be true," then it probably is.
For his part, Buterin – yes, the real Vitalik Buterin – has vocally denounced these cryptocurrency scam artists.
He has also poked fun at the frustrating situation.
Finally, beware of fake company accounts, too. Most recently, Coinbase has been plagued by these imposters.
Stay safe everyone!