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TikTok flooded with adult-dating scams and fake accounts: Report

Owing to its rising popularity, TikTok has become the latest target for scammers.

Owing to its rising popularity, TikTok has become the latest target for scammers. According to a report by the cybersecurity firm, Tenable, the popular media app, has been flooded with scams involving ‘adult-dating’ services.

Tenable’s Satnam Narang wrote in a blog post that 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.

“Given TikTok’s meteoric rise in popularity, it comes as no surprise that scammers would take notice. So far, these scams appear to be in their infancy,” said Satnam Narang in his blog post.

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“These profiles feature stolen videos from sources like Instagram and Snapchat, featuring women dancing, posing in bikinis, working out or just going about their normal day-to-day lives,” wrote the Tenable’s senior security response manager.

“While these accounts could use their TikTok profile biography to promote their adult-themed dating websites, the scammers primarily use these accounts to drive users to a separate Snapchat account, which they promote in their video captions… 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.”

The method being adopted by scammers:

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. This is one of the oldest tricks in the books. 

The posts will usually be accompanied by suggestive hashtags – #18Plus, #18PlusOnly #NSFW (Not Safe For Work), etc. – and links to adult-themed sites. Many of these accounts redirect users to premium Snapchat accounts hosting adult content.

How scammers benefit:

Narang, who has spent months analysing scammers’ modus operandi on TikTok, concluded that these scammers earn money when users click on the links or sign up to these adult-themed sites. This means every time a user signs up, they get paid.

One such website identified to indulge in this scam is flirt.com. Narang of Tenable says in the report that flirt.com affiliate could earn a scammer anywhere between $1 to $3 dollars for a qualified lead depending upon various criteria like the geographic location, age.

In another method, which is being widely adopted by scammers recently, users are being made to subscribe to a ‘premium’ Snapchat account in which people earn money by posting not-safe-for-work (NSFW) Snaps from a more private account. According to the report, scammers are offering their so-called ‘premium Snapchat’ for $10. They ask the user to make the payment through online payment modes like PayPal. If users ‘swipe up’ they’re redirected to a PayPal payment site to send the scammer the funds they’re requesting. Such ‘services’ are offered for a payment which varies from 5 dollars to 20 dollars.

TikTok’s response:

According to a report by CNET, TikTok has stated that the accounts which have been mentioned in the Tenable report have been pulled down. The CNET report quoted TikTok stating, “TikTok has strict policies safeguarding users against fake, fraudulent or misleading content. 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.”

However, TikTok did not clear as to how many accounts have actually been pulled down until now. It has also not revealed as to how many such spam accounts actually existed on the platform as of now.

The app, created by a Chinese Internet technology company Bytedance, allows the creation of short videos which can be lip-synced with any of the existing soundtracks. This is, however, not the first time this popular media app has come under scrutiny.

In India, the app has faced attack after several incidents of death, morphed pictures of girls and even flesh trade were reported. Earlier also TikTok has been under the scanner for creating ‘law and order problem’. In February 2019, a Tamil Nadu minister sought a ban on the app as according to him many obscene activities take place on it.

With the increasing quandaries, it now becomes imperative for media apps like TikTok and other platforms to take cognisance of such alarming issues and take up fast and stringent steps to tackle them.

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