Google’s Threat Analysis Group said that a group of hackers is taking over popular YouTube channels, then rebranding them from the top down to mirror the branding of well-known crypto or tech companies. 

“The channel name, profile picture, and content were all replaced with cryptocurrency branding to impersonate large tech or cryptocurrency exchange firms,” the group said, adding that hackers would live stream videos promising crypto giveaways in exchange for “initial contributions.” 

If they don’t execute a rebranding strategy, they “sell it to the highest bidder,” said Google. Depending on how many subscribers the channel has, the secondary market for these channels offers anywhere from $3 to $4,000 per channel. 

“The actors behind this campaign, which we attribute to a group of hackers recruited in a Russian-speaking forum, lure their target with fake collaboration opportunities,” they added.

YouTube and crypto

This is not the first time bad actors have attempted to orchestrate a crypto scam on YouTube. 

In December of last year, crypto exchange Gemini exposed two fake YouTube channels that were pretending to be from Gemini itself. 

“These scam accounts are not our company. We have reported these accounts to YouTube,” Gemini tweeted. 

This, in turn, was not even the first time Gemini encountered the problem of impersonating social media accounts. In July 2020, Gemini addressed yet another scam alert, saying the exchange had been “getting DMs about fake Gemini profiles on various social media platforms.” 

YouTube also has a long history of banning cryptocurrency-related content.

In contrast, the UK’s financial services regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), recently launched a campaign on YouTube and TikTok warning young investors about cryptocurrency risks. 

“We want to create confident consumers. This campaign is about empowering younger investors, not inhibiting them,” said Sarah Pritchard, executive director for the FCA.