Steve Wozniak is suing YouTube for allowing scammers to use his name and likeness in phony bitcoin giveaways.
According to the lawsuit, filed in the Superior Court of the State of California, crooks have been posting videos on the platform claiming that Wozniak is hosting a bitcoin promotion. They convince users that if they send bitcoin to a provided address, “Wozniak” will return double the amount.
“YouTube has featured a steady stream of scam videos and promotions that falsely use images and videos of Plaintiff Steve Wozniak, and other famous tech entrepreneurs, and that have defrauded YouTube users out of millions of dollars,” the complaint reads.
The lawsuit includes screenshots of videos advertising “5,000-BTC” and “10,000-BTC” giveaways from Wozniak, which include images of the Apple co-founder. There appear to be videos using the likeness of other tech leaders as well, including Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and financial self-help guru Robert Kiyosaki.
The plaintiffs, which include Wozniak and 17 other individuals, allege that YouTube is aware of these scams but has nonetheless not taken the videos down.
“Despite Plaintiffs’ and legions of other users’ repeated pleas that YouTube take timely action to end this bitcoin giveaway scam, YouTube repeatedly delayed or refused to do so,” reads the lawsuit. “As a result of defendants’ egregious failures to act and affirmative misconduct in promoting this criminal enterprise, Plaintiff Wozniak has suffered, and continues to suffer, irreparable harm to his reputation, and YouTube users, including plaintiffs, have been defrauded out of millions of dollars. Among other relief, Plaintiffs seek an order requiring YouTube to finally end its outrageous practice of hosting, promoting, and profiting from these criminally fraudulent videos and promotions.”
“We take abuse of our platform seriously, and take action quickly when we detect violations of our policies, such as scams or impersonation,” said a YouTube spokesperson in a statement to The Verge.
Fraudulent “giveaways” have long been a feature of the bitcoin world, but they are getting more attention after a network-wide hack on Twitter that leveraged account access to perform the scam on a massive scale. Last week, hackers accessed the accounts of a number of high-profile users, including Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Kanye West, and Michael Bloomberg. Hackers used the breached accounts to announce fraudulent giveaways, claiming users who sent bitcoin to a provided address would receive double the amount in return. The scam is believed to have earned its creators nearly $120,000. (The Youtube scam, while also targeting bitcoin owners, does not appear to involve compromised account information.)
Twitter acknowledged that situation about an hour after it began, tweeting from its support handle, “We are investigating and taking steps to fix it.” The company eventually locked all verified accounts from tweeting while it looked into the incident, a measure that was in place for over two hours.
“We all feel terrible this happened,” Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey wrote later in the evening. “We’re diagnosing and will share everything we can when we have a more complete understanding of exactly what happened.”