On Jan. 31, a Telegram user calling himself “Danny Nelson” contacted Karla Vilhelem, a public relations professional, with an unseemly proposal.
Pretending to be the CoinDesk reporter of the same name, he said he would publish a post about her client but wanted $600 for his trouble, a small sum for exposure on the crypto site of record.
Vilhelem was wary. After three years in the industry, she was used to scammers impersonating major players in the crypto ecosystem and, more frustratingly, so-called journalists asking for cash. She advised clients never to pay for coverage, and the proposition made her suspicious of this so-called Danny Nelson.
“I knew CoinDesk doesn’t take money,” she said.
Another tell-tale sign was her interlocutor’s atrocious grammar, and mispunctuation of the brand name, which is spelled with a capital D.
“I’ll get the vital informations [sic] needed to write and publish your project article review on your website or whitepaper,” the faux Danny Nelson wrote. “It cost [sic] $600 to write and publish your project article on Coindesk because I’ll have to pay for some logistics.”
Still, Vilhelem was curious. When would she have to pay?
“You have to pay Before [sic] I can proceed with the work because I’ll have to pay for some logistics,” he said.
Whatever the “logistics” involved, Vilhelem refused his offer after checking the real Danny Nelson’s Twitter profile and seeing his real Telegram handle. She contacted the CoinDesk team to report the imposter and sent along images of their Telegram exchange. (You can look for real contacts for CoinDesk reporters on our masthead.)
This impersonator never made off with Vilhelem’s money. Others weren’t so lucky.
At least three startup founders have been scammed in similar situations, CoinDesk has found. We explored two of these scams to better understand how they worked.
Working with blockchain investigations company Coinfirm, we wanted to see where the money was going and if we could learn anything about the perpetrators. The ultimate goal: to prevent it from happening to anyone else.
This scam is as old as journalism. Someone pretending to represent a major media company will approach a small business offering to write about them… for a price.
In the days before the internet, corrupt public relations professionals and fake reporters would offer pay-for-play articles in newspapers. Now, online imposters request products like computers, laptops and cameras from companies, offering to “review” them on major news sites. Thanks to anonymous payments, scammers can ask for cash in exchange for ink.
What makes this particular scam unique are the lengths the perpetrators will go to appear legitimate. Many create fake Telegram accounts – the hacker who tried to scam Vilhelem used @danielnelson – and then approach entrepreneurs in chat rooms on the internet. The exchange usually is…