Fraudsters have hacked the Twitter accounts of two British companies and stolen £120,000, after posing as Silicon Valley entrepreneur Elon Musk and promoting a fake cryptocurrency giveaway.

Clothing retailer Matalan and Pathé UK, the British arm of the French filmmaker, were both targeted by the scammers, who took control of the brands’ Twitter accounts and posted scam messages advertising the giveaway. 

The pictures and official names of the accounts, which together boast 100,000 followers, were changed to support the scam. The accounts were both verified, meaning Twitter users would be more likely to trust their tweets.

Analysis of the scammers’ cryptocurrency account by Crypto News Review reveals that, at the time of writing, more than 300 people had fallen victim, sending Bitcoin worth over £120,000.

The post claimed that Mr Musk was leaving Tesla, the electric car manufacturer, and was giving away free Bitcoin, a form of digital currency. The users were encouraged to send a small amount of Bitcoin to an account, and a much larger amount would be sent in return.

The incident raises questions over the security of the social network – and the speed with which it responds to data breaches.

A spokesman for Twitter said the company did not comment on individual accounts but added: “Impersonating another individual to deceive users is a clear violation of the Twitter rules.

“Twitter has also substantially improved how we tackle cryptocurrency scams on the platform. In recent weeks, user impressions have fallen by a multiple of 10 in recent weeks as we continue to invest in more proactive tools to detect spammy and malicious activity. This is a significant improvement on previous action rates.”

A Pathé UK spokesman confirmed that the company’s account had been hacked by “an unknown third party”. “A series of unauthorised tweets were sent for which we apologise.  The issue has now been resolved and we have taken back control of our account,” she added.

Matalan has been approached for comment but had not responded at the time of going to press.

Mr Musk, who runs electric car manufacturer Tesla and space exploration funders SpaceX, is frequently a symbol for cryptocurrency scammers, who use his status updates as a means to target his followers.

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