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LeBron James and others impersonated by verified Twitter accounts

The misleading accounts popped up Wednesday. Some have already been suspended.
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Some Twitter users are already abusing the platform’s new for-purchase verification badges by impersonating athletes, brands and other high-profile people.

The spoof accounts popped up Wednesday afternoon after Twitter officially began rolling out the $7.99-a-month version of its Twitter Blue subscription service, which allows users to pay for blue check marks indicating they have been verified. Many blue checks already belong to celebrities, businesses and journalists.

The athletes who appear to have been parodied as of Wednesday afternoon include NBA star LeBron James, Major League Baseball pitcher Aroldis Chapman and NHL center Connor McDavid. All three fake accounts have been suspended.

Another account that has been suspended claimed to be for the gaming company Nintendo of America. A verified account with the handle "@nlntendoofus" tweeted an image of the character Mario making an obscene gesture.

A user impersonating former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, using the handle "@RudyGiulianiESQ," had not been suspended. The account’s bio says it is “parity," and it lists another account that goes by "The Bookie’s Basement." NBC News has reached out to the user who appears to be behind the fake account.

Representatives for James, Chapman and McDavid did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday. Nintendo of America also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A spokesperson for Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Twitter Support account tweeted Wednesday afternoon: “We’re not currently putting an ‘Official’ label on accounts but we are aggressively going after impersonation and deception."

A bogus tweet from the verified account impersonating James came from the handle “@KINGJamez.” It erroneously claimed that he had requested a trade. 

The tweet from the verified account pretending to be McDavid falsely claimed he was signing with the New York Islanders.

The tweet from the handle “@AroIdisChapman,” which differs from Chapman’s actual handle, "@AChapman_105," claimed he had signed a three-year contract with the New York Yankees.

The fake Chapman account wrote a follow-up tweet, seemingly clarifying it was a joke. Before it was suspended, it listed itself as a “parody” account in the bio.

Musk, who officially acquired Twitter late last month, has faced intense scrutiny for his decision to turn verification, a tool used to ensure the people posting are who they say they are, into a subscription-based product. Some have raised concerns about how that could affect the spread of misinformation. 

In recent days, several previously verified users who impersonated Musk were banned. Comedian Kathy Griffin, YouTube personality Ethan Klein and “Mad Men” actor Rich Sommer were suspended over the weekend after they changed their display names and profile pictures to match Musk’s.

Before Musk acquired Twitter, it had rules against impersonation and rules about how parody accounts could be used. Accounts had to clearly label that they were parodies of the people or platforms they were impersonating. 

Musk tweeted Sunday that “going forward, any Twitter handles engaging in impersonation without clearly specifying ‘parody’ will be permanently suspended.”