A Canadian Bitcoin YouTuber turned the tables on a scammer this week, convincing a con artist—who promised to double bitcoin investments in 24 hours—to send him $50 worth of the cryptocurrency. He promptly passed it along to Bitcoin Venezuela, a charity providing food in the suffering country.
Calgary resident Ben Perrin hosts BTC Sessions, a Bitcoin-focused YouTube educational channel with almost 30,000 subscribers, and is marketing director of Canadian cryptocurrency exchange Bull Bitcoin.
Perrin described the incident on the BTC Session blog, including copious screenshots of his chat with the scammer—identified as susan_williams_2121—whose picture shows a very pleasant, motherly woman.
She claimed to represent a bitcoin miner who was “trying to get me to invest in their platform, that apparently doubles your bitcoin every 24 hours, which is a ridiculous claim to make,” he told Modern Consensus in a phone interview. Instead of ignoring it as usual, Perrin pretended to bite.
“I got the message super early in the morning as I was just waking up,” he said. “It was a holiday Monday here in Canada, and in my still half-sleeping stupor, I just started responding, figured I’d waste this person’s time a little bit. And then it just kind of snowballed into this intricate, ridiculous thing I spent my morning doing.”
In part, this was because of his dislike of scammers. Additionally, Perrin said it peaked his interest as he had been reading up on social engineering lately, “mostly as a way to insulate myself from that kind of stuff.”
Noting that these ‘’Nigerian prince” type of scammers generally use tactics relying on greed or fear, Perrin said, “I was curious if I could bank on this scammer’s greed to be able to turn the tables.”
Portraying a middle-aged to elderly newcomer who just invested in “5 bit coin” Perrin played the scammer, telling her that he didn’t even know how wallets worked, and that he relied upon his son—whom he conveniently could not reach—for advice on cryptocurrency investing.
“That was a hundred percent intentional,” he said. “I thought, how can I seem like I have no idea what I was talking about? So I kept on referring to bitcoin as bit coin, in two separate words. There’re a couple other things I threw in, like typically a bitcoin wallet will generate a new receiving address every time you received money. And I made an issue out of this and said it seemed very confusing to me why there was another address there.”
Perrin pointed to the scammer’s picture as a social engineering giveaway. Based on the demographic of his YouTube viewers, Perrin said, “I can assure you that there is a definite deficiency in motherly, elderly women that … are super interested in bitcoin. So, that was a curious choice of avatar.”
To hook susan_williams_2121, Perrin had to get more creative. He turned to Blockchain Explorer to find wallets with the right amount of bitcoin to screenshot for his text messages, at one point Photoshopping fiat dollar values to make the account seem current.
Finally, he sent his own bait, saying he was willing to invest two bitcoin—worth about $22,000 at the time—and asking susan_williams_2121 to wire him $100 worth of bitcoin so he’d be sure he had the right wallet and his transaction wouldn’t go wrong.
When “she” balked, he first suggested calling his son, who he said was “pretty smart with this stuff.”
When the scammer told him to go ahead—perhaps hoping that just agreeing was enough reassurance, or that she’d hook another sucker—Perrin claimed he couldn’t reach his son.
Perrin then created another fictitious scammer, “Stu Reid”, claiming to have just invested one bitcoin with him. After going back and forth saying “Stu Reid” had sent him the $100 of bitcoin as a show of good faith, susan_williams_2121 offered $50 if he agreed to also invest one bitcoin with her.
Once he got it, Perrin dropped the act, calling susan_williams_2121 an “idiot scammer asshole” and saying he’d sent the money to Bitcoin Venezuela, a charity pointed out by Lightning Torch creator @hodlnaut when the torch was still being passed around.
Chuckling, Perrin said he enjoyed the process, adding “I would be lying if I said no. I was pretty dumbfounded when they actually sent me money. I got all excited and I was kind of giddily telling my wife what had happened. It was super funny to do.”
Learn before you invest
One of the reasons Bitcoin attracts scammers, Perrin said, is that transactions are irreversible. “If you’re scamming somebody with dollars through the banking system, those transfers can be reversed if it’s caught quickly enough. Whereas with Bitcoin, you send it—and sure you can track it on the blockchain—but there’s typically very little or no recourse … to get your funds back. It’s like giving somebody a handful of cash on the street.”
Perrin advised anyone new to Bitcoin to start small. “I typically tell people to do some reading, watch some videos, and do your best to understand Bitcoin before even owning any. And then, honestly, take your time.
He suggests starting with introduction to Bitcoin videos by Andreas Antonopoulos and Yan Pritzker’s book “Inventing Bitcoin.”
The reason he started YouTubing about Bitcoin is that he found it hard to get answers to basic questions he had after discovering the cryptocurrency in 2014.
“It was tough parsing through some of these technical forums and figuring out how to use these things,” said Perrin. Once he had gotten a grasp on it in 2016, he decided to put his background in education and performance to use.
“I figured I could put together some relatively informative and entertaining videos for people to be able to navigate this new space,” he said. “I started creating at least one video every week and I’ve been doing it ever since. And it’s grown like crazy. I just recently peaked over 2.5 million views on all my videos.”
Unusually for someone working for a cryptocurrency exchange, Perrin advises against keeping bitcoin in an online hot wallet.
“One of the easier ways to obtain bitcoin is through an online exchange, but if an exchange gets hacked and the money gets stolen, you really don’t have any recourse,” he said. “The whole point of Bitcoin is to be your own bank and have the responsibility of holding your own capital,” he said. “Never, never on an exchange.”
That’s a perspective shared by his employer, Bull Bitcoin. A Canadian exchange, it does not take custody of bitcoin bought or sold on it.
Canadian Bitcoin investors learned this the hard way, when the QuadrigaCX exchange went belly up, either because the owner died without telling anyone the hot wallet passwords or because the funds had been stolen before his death.