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In crypto, there’s no shortage of imposters and thieves phishing for unsuspecting victims’ private keys over the internet. A ‘private key’ is a cryptographic signature encoded within a 12-word passphrase that gives users access to funds within their blockchain addresses.
But have you ever received an unsolicited message being given another’s private key, without a second thought? What could a scammer possibly have to gain from revealing such info to another person?
A lot, apparently.
The ‘Here’s My Private Key’ Crypto Scam
The nature of this scam flips the classic phishing scheme model on its head. It often begins with an innocuous message from a social media bot posing as a cryptocurrency noobie, asking for technical support.
The message may look like this:
“Hello, I’m a student. I have $790USDT (trc20) in my cryptocurrency wallet. I don’t know how to change these USDT into dollars. Can you help me”
12 Mnemonic Phrase Tron: income gossip novel canyon cube muscle first that gloom pyramid scatter fiction
Password private key:
This contrasts with the traditional spam bot that poses as an influential industry “expert” reaching out to newcomers. Typically, these scams involve soliciting the victim’s private key or crypto funds with the promise of greater returns.
Instead, the scammer plays the fool and treats you as the expert. Alternatively, it could simply be a user pretending to gift you his private key for a wide array of reasons. Either way, it plays on the assumption that you know you can take their funds by using their private key.
Therein lies the bait. Tempted by greed, users recreate the scammers’ wallets and are presented with their promised crypto tokens within – in this case, $790 USDT. At this point, the victim must only transfer those tokens to a wallet he solely controls to assume permanent control of the funds.
But there’s a catch: the wallet does not have enough of the blockchain’s native currency to power the transaction. That would be TRX in this example, but is most often ETH for tokens traded on Ethereum.
Naturally, the next logical step is to fund the wallet with a small batch of TRX to bring that USDT home. Easy, right?
Wrong – impossible, in fact. At this point, the scammer has likely arranged a smart contract to redirect any gas funds sent to that address to another, personal address of his. In this way, the ‘free’ USDT is actually rendered immobile while your attempt to top up the wallet only lines the scammer’s pockets.
What’s worse, the process can be so fast that victims don’t understand what happened. They may try to fund the wallet multiple times before noticing they’ve been scammed, and that the tokens are unretrievable.
An Ethereum address from a similar scam highlights how the same scam can impact multiple victims. While many individual transactions from separate parties are sent to this address, they are each redirected to another address immediately.
Now that you understand the nature of the scam, here’s what to watch out for to make sure you aren’t fooled in the future.
- Don’t accept unsolicited funds. No, you didn’t win the lottery. If you are selected by someone you don’t know to “freely” take their money, there’s probably a very scammy catch.
- Beware of Bots. These scams can often work best when posing as an average Twitter user, rather than an influencer. Therefore, using a ‘verified’ checkmark to filter for bots doesn’t always work. Instead, visit any suspicious account’s profile for more information. If it has few followers, little activity, and/or highly unoriginal content, then it’s probably a bot or imposter trying to extort you.
- Check the Address. There are blockchain explorers all over the web. Search up the address that you are planning to top with funds. How do transactions typically fare when they arrive? Do they stay there, or are they redirected immediately?