The social media video platform TikTok is surging in popularity and becoming a magnet for scammers, a new report says.
Known for its short-form 15-second videos, TikTok is now one of the most popular downloads globally on Apple’s and Google’s app stores. Scammers are using its popularity to create fake profiles to trick TikTok users into signing up for adult dating websites or paying for bogus “premium” Snapchat accounts, according to a report from cybersecurity company Tenable.
One type of scam promotes adult dating using videos pilfered from Instagram and Snapchat, Tenable’s Satnam Narang wrote in the report. “The scammers primarily use these accounts to drive users to a separate Snapchat account, which they promote in their video captions.”
Captions include come-ons like “Waiting in my 18+ SnapChat: [username]” or “Urge you follow me on SnapChat: [username]” along with hashtags such as #stripdance, #18plusonly, and #18pluscontent.
Some TikTok users are actually falling for the scams. “Based on a sampling of adult dating scam accounts I’ve encountered since March 2019, on average each account would follow 299 users, would be followed by 650 users and receive an average of 1,744 likes across their videos,” according to Narang.
The most successful scam account got over 34,000 likes across their videos and garnered over 12,300 followers, he added.
Tenable also posted a “part two” of the report, which looks at how scammers impersonate popular TikTok accounts in order to obtain a following without having to create original content.
When a TikTok user jumps over to Snapchat, they see a Snapchat Story with videos, often of the same unidentified woman doing something sexual in nature. The stories may also contain a link that directs users to a page hosted on Google Sites.
The Google Sites page will redirect them to a “prelander” (or intermediary page) with bogus survey questions.
“Once the user completes the survey, they are redirected to the real adult dating site, which offers an affiliate program to drive traffic and sign-ups. These scammers use a cost-per-action (CPA) network that provides offers to affiliates in exchange for some sort of revenue share,” Narang said.
But the scammers have recently changed tactics in order to get around having to convince a user to sign up for an adult dating website, according to Narang.
“Instead, they’re asking users to subscribe to a ‘premium’ Snapchat account…As you can imagine, the users who pay for the supposed ‘premium’ Snapchat aren’t likely to get anything in return,” Narang added. “Instead, the scammers move away from being a middle man, getting paid directly by their victims instead of through a CPA firm.”
Operated by Chinese internet company ByteDance, TikTok told Fox News it is taking action. “TikTok has strict policies to safeguard users against fake, fraudulent or misleading content,” a company spokesperson said. “We flag and remove most spam accounts before they can reach users’ feeds, and we continuously improve our protections, even as malicious actors work to evade our safeguards.”
TikTok added it has already removed all of the accounts identified as spam before the blog was published.
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