Twitter battles wave of impersonators after launching new paid verification system

CNN business

Twitter appears to be battling a wave of celebrity and corporate impersonators on its platform, who quickly tried out the company’s new paid verification system hours after it was launched.

CNN has confirmed that several verified Twitter accounts have been banned from the platform after other users posted screenshots of the accounts with misleading content. The fake verified accounts had posed as former President Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, Nintendo of America, basketball player LeBron James, software company Valve, and others.

Before being banned, the fraudulent Nintendo Account tweeted an image of video game character Mario giving the viewer the middle finger. LeBron James’ account falsely claimed that the athlete requested a trade. The fake Trump account tweeted, “This is why Elon Musk’s plan isn’t working Work.”

Several Twitter users reported Wednesday that they have created easily verified scammer accounts, although CNN has not been able to independently confirm their responsibility in all cases.

CNN spoke to the user behind the fake Trump account, Brian Whelan, whose Twitter bio and LinkedIn identify him as the head of video and social affairs at London-based Times Radio.

Taking to Twitter, Whelan claimed he created a fake Trump account “within two beers” and after spending £6 and tweeted a screenshot of the fake account where he tried – but failed – former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to follow after the fake account had been suspended.

In an interview with CNN, Whelan said he managed to impersonate Trump by repurposing an old, unused account. He bought Twitter Blue for the old account with a prepaid card tied to his real name and “instantly.” [had] a fake trump with a blue tick for two hours.”

Rachel Tobac, a cybersecurity expert, noticed the trend and said it could quickly spread to bad actors posing as first responders or other government accounts.

“This review is already causing major trust issues across the platform,” Tobac tweeted.

New Twitter owner Elon Musk said the feature aims to increase costs for spammers and that accounts who abuse the new verification system to impersonate others would be permanently banned, despite his previous promises that such bans under his ownership “extremely rare” are the platforms.

The wave of impersonations comes as Twitter allows any user to purchase a blue tick for their profile without undergoing identity verification — a feature that information security experts have warned would lead to widespread forgery and deceptive behavior.

Musk argued during a Twitter Spaces event with advertisers on Wednesday that even wealthy bad actors like state-sponsored disinformation agents are eventually turned off because they may run out of credit card and phone numbers.

Asked by CNN to respond to this claim, Chris Krebs, the former director of the US government’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, tweeted a GIF from the animated film Futurama showing the character Fry narrowing his eyes skeptically.

– Rachel Metz of CNN contributed to this report.