Images of well-known celebrities are being used as the faces of crypto scams—despite social networks vowing to clamp down on fraudsters.
British bank NatWest has released a league table that shows which A-listers had their likeness used to steal the most money from naive and unsuspecting customers.
A picture of Jeff Bezos was involved in the highest-value crypto scam, with £158,873 ($196,344) lost in a single incident.
The billionaire’s image was used to promote a Google advert for an investment opportunity—purportedly on a new Amazon trading platform for cryptocurrencies.
And a photo of Elon Musk—whose face is often used by scammers on YouTube livestreams plugging “send one Bitcoin, get two back” scams—was used to steal £42,500 ($52,545). The victim had mistakenly believed that Tesla’s CEO had endorsed a crypto scheme.
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In a sign that the mania surrounding cryptocurrencies has died down following a punishing bear market, the top three celebrity scams that NatWest customers fell for didn’t involve digital assets.
The highest-value case that the bank had to deal with involved Peter Jones, a multimillionaire who hosts Dragon’s Den (the British equivalent of Shark Tank). His photo was used in a promotional interview that mimicked a genuine newspaper article, and one poor Briton lost £285,209 ($352,649) as a result.
Sir David Attenborough—whose nature documentaries are loved the world over—featured in a Twitter advert that claimed he made £125,000 ($154,525) from stocks and shares related to gold, natural gas and oil. Despite it being highly unlikely that a personality known for his conservation work would invest in fossil fuels, a victim who saw the scam lost £275,551 ($340,636).
And things get unlikelier still when you consider that an image of Piers Morgan—the love-him-or-hate-him broadcaster—was used on Facebook to part someone with £232,238 ($287,105) of their hard-earned cash.
Pictures of Martin Lewis—a British financial journalist and consumer champion who won a settlement from Facebook in 2019 after his face was plastered on crypto scams—also featured in a bogus ad that cost a victim £149,651 (£184,989). Where did the advert appear? Facebook.
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NatWest says millions of pounds are being stolen, and these figures only reflect the highest-value individual cases. Worse still, this data is only from one bank.
“Criminals are using some of the UK’s most trusted and respected celebrity images to steal millions of pounds,” NatWest scam expert Stuart Skinner said in a news release, urging consumers to be “extremely cautious of fake celebrity investment adverts seen online.” He added that, “A cross-industry effort with social media companies is required to stop this crime.”
There are two British celebrities who have fallen out of NatWest’s rankings this year: Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield.
The daytime TV personalities fell out of favor with the public last year amid allegations they skipped long queues to see the Queen lying in state.
In the past week, Schofield’s television career has been left in tatters after it emerged he lied about having an affair with a young male colleague while married to his wife.
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