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Scammers find a new target: Teens on TikTok

Everyone wants to be rich, skinny, and beloved — or at least, they want to look like it on social media.

To that end, all the big social media platforms have and have had to deal with thousands of scammers that use their sites and apps to hawk fake diet pills, get-rich-quick and multi-level marketing schemes, and even fake adult dating sites designed to part people from their money.

Now, TikTok is experiencing that same influx of scammers.

Scammers are lurking on the platform using TikTok’s advertising, according to a report published Thursday by cybersecurity firm Tenable.

The scams include dropshipping scams, where buyers get a different product than they ordered; pyramid schemes and quick cash offers; fraudulent offers for assistance with college tuition; and fake celebrity endorsements of diet pills.

“It really picked up in February, just before the pandemic,” researcher Satnam Narang told Digital Trends.

Narang, a self-described fan of TikTok who regularly used the app, said: “You have these different factions of scammers creating fake apps to try and get young kids, many of whom are looking for disposable income. Lately, it’s been diet pills and pill spam in general. Then there are free gift cards, free stuff, dropshipping…it’s a tangled web.”

That can be especially dangerous on TikTok, where around one-third of the apps 100 million monthly users are under the age of 14, Narang said. Those kids likely don’t have much disposable income, and may be susceptible to an ad that encourages them to “make easy money.”

TikTok scams to watch out for

In particular, the report delves into an app called iMoney, which claims to pay people out for completing simple internet tasks like downloading other apps, playing games, or sometimes even needing to spend money on an Amazon item and leaving a review.

The app advertises on TikTok — often disguising itself as a different app — as a way to make lots of money quickly, but the Tenable report found that on average, users only earn around 23 cents per task, if they can even ever get paid out for it.

iMoney masquerades as up to five different other apps on the App Store, the report found. The app also requires users to download a certificate on to their phone, or provide driver’s licenses or other ID in order to cash out, all of which is against Apple’s terms of service. Many users have complained about being unable to actually collect what little they’ve earned.

“You have an app that says you get $10 for downloading an app, and then suddenly you have to provide an ID, and install a certificate, all in the name of making money and then only make 23 cents per app,” said Narang.

Another popular scam on TikTok involved advertisements that appear to contain celebrity endorsement for diet pills.

The endorsements are fake, the report found, often using repurposed videos that feature the likes of Oprah, Snoop Dogg, or even Tina Lawson, mother of music megastar Beyoncé.

“This is clearly one of the tactics that works,” Narang told Digital Trends. “If you have a celebrity who’s gone through issues with their weight, they’ll use them as an example.”

None of these scams are explicitly illegal, although some, like iMoney, may go against TikTok’s term of service. Narang has been researching social media scams for more than 10 years, first looking at Facebook and Twitter, and he said the proliferation of scams on these platforms is part of the natural growing pains of these big social media sites. But, he told Digital Trends, he had hoped TikTok would learn from these older brands brands.

“This is part of the maturation process,” he said. After all, TikTok has only been around in its current form for two years.

“What I expected was these platforms look at the legacy examples and how they dealt with it, and hire the right people to address the issue.” Narang also said he had been in touch with Apple, Amazon, and Facebook about the scams.

When asked for comment, a TikTok spokesperson said they had removed the ads identified in Tenable’s report.

“TikTok has strict policies to protect users from fake, fraudulent, or misleading content, including ads,” the spokesperson told Digital Trends in an email. “We also have measures in place to detect and remove fraudulent ads, and advertising content passes through multiple levels of verification before receiving approval as well as once ads are running to help ensure authenticity, quality, and safety.”

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