Among the many issues that any growing social media platform has to deal with include scammers and spam. The wildly popular TikTok isn’t free from this hassle and as per a report from a security researcher, scams redirecting users to adult-themed dating sites are scattered all over the platform and rising in popularity.
As per a report by Tenable’s Satnam Narang, these scams leverage the popularity of celebs and social media stars to redirect users to scam sites that offer adult content and ‘free’ likes and followers.
The most popular method of scamming users involves duplicating the profiles of social media stars. Scammers steal content from popular Instagrammers and upload them to TikTok accounts that look legitimate at first glance. They also resort to tactics like setting up fake ‘backup’ accounts and fan pages in the name of social media celebs. These are age-old scams that have been around since the days of MySpace, Orkut, and the early years of Facebook and Instagram.
The posts will usually be accompanied by suggestive hashtags – #18Plus, #18PlusOnly #NSFW, etc. – and links to adult-themed sites. Many of these accounts redirect users to premium Snapchat accounts hosting adult content.
Narang, who spent months analysing scammers’ modus operandi on TikTok, reports that these scammers earn money when users click on the links or sign up to these adult-themed sites.
Similarly, scam accounts offering free likes and followers extract data from users (username and other personal details) and use that information to steal data like profile photos. These scam sites usually get users to install fake apps that earn scammers money as well.
According to Narang, scams involving adult sites earn a lot more money, which is why they’re more popular. Narang also says that these scam accounts are so well made that they regularly pop up in users’ feeds.
Narang informed TikTok of his findings and the site has apparently taken action against the accounts. It also promised to work on better filtering systems to take down such accounts more quickly.
While the problem isn’t unique to TikTok, being the new kid on the block means that TikTok is a very juicy target for scammers.
Just to put TikTok’s popularity into perspective, TikTok boasted of a monthly active user (MAU) count of over 500 million last year. Ten-year-old Twitter, in 2019, can only report 330 million MAUs. Ephemeral messaging platform Snapchat can only claim 203 mn MAUs.
With 2.4 bn and over 1bn MAUs respectively, Facebook and Instagram are most certainly larger, but TikTok’s growth rate means that it could overtake Instagram within a few years, and Facebook soon after.
TikTok was recently banned in India over its alleged inability to police content, for encouraging the spread of pornographic content, and for exposing children to sexual predators. The ban was lifted, but TikTok’s future remains on somewhat shaky ground in India.
Narang’s full report can be found here. He goes into a lot of detail and breaks down exactly how scammers are abusing TikTok, and even Snapchat, to earn money and compromise privacy.