From dance moves to defense maneuvers: Mastering the TikTok scam shuffle

January 14th · 12 min read

Rotem Tal - Senior Cybersecurity Expert |Writer & Editor|
Rotem Tal - Senior Cybersecurity Expert |Writer & Editor|

Outsmart scammers and secure your TikTok experience

Have you ever come across a platform where a quick 15-second video could skyrocket you to overnight stardom? A place where even your grandma might outshine you in coolness? If you have no idea what I’m talking about, chances are you've been out of the loop, possibly in a cave, for the last five years. Obviously, or obvs (as any Gen Z would say), I'm talking about TikTok.

This app has taken the world by storm, one quirky dance move and hilarious cat video at a time. It's the wild, wild west of the internet – a place where everyone from teenagers to celebrities to yes, even our grandmas are unleashing their creativity. Whether you're in it for the laughs, the trends, or just to see what all the fuss is about, TikTok has become the new town square, buzzing with energy and a little bit of that good old internet weirdness.

But here’s the twist, behind TikTok's dazzling array of dance-offs and lip-sync battles lurks a darker side. TikTok scams, just when you think you're safely posting the latest "renegade dance" or "flip the switch challenge,” boom! There they are lurking, ready to pounce, turning your viral dream into a digital nightmare.

Americans lost $2.7 billion due to scams originating on social media

In this article, we're going to peel back the curtain on TikTok scams – explain their impact, learn how to prevent them, and explore how Guardio can be your digital knight in shining armor if you ever come across one. From sneaky scamming tactics to the best scam prevention practices that will keep your identity and finances secure, we've got it all covered. Ready? Let's #DeepDiveChallenge' into the world of TikTok scams.

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a person holding a mobile phone

Behind the screen: Exposing the world of TikTok scams

The story of TikTok's meteoric rise to fame is a testament to digital innovation and cultural impact. Originally launched under two names, TikTok for the global audience and Douyin in China, the platform has redefined what it means to be a social media giant. TikTok has been downloaded more than 4.1 billion times and surged past the 1 billion monthly active users mark back in 2021.

Comparatively, industry giants like Facebook and Instagram took nearly a decade to amass a similar user base. Yet, TikTok achieved this feat in a fraction of the time, demonstrating a masterful grasp of the nuances of social media engagement and growth.

TikTok's meteoric rise has seen it amass over a billion monthly active users, a milestone that's not without its challenges. This immense popularity has made the platform a prime target for scammers looking to exploit its vast user base. Central to TikTok's appeal are its short, viral videos, a format that unfortunately also makes it an ideal breeding ground for scams to quickly reach and deceive a large number of users.
You might wonder, "What's the big deal if someone hacks my TikTok account? I’ll just open a new one. ” However, the reality is far more alarming. The aim of these scammers extends beyond just hijacking your account . They're after your personal information, hacking into your other accounts, duping your friends into sending them money, draining your finances, and even stealing your identity. The threat is real and dangerous, turning TikTok's playful environment into a potential hotspot for various forms of digital deception and crime. Let’s go through some of the most popular scamming techniques used by cybercriminals via TikTok and other social media platforms.

TikTok scamming techniques

  • Phishing: This tactic extends beyond emails , phishing can target people on texts ( smishing ) and even social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. Scammers will send direct messages or comment on your posts. Their goal? To trick you into giving away your TikTok login details or clicking a malicious link that’ll take you to a bogus website. If you take the bait and divulge your info, well, you've just handed over your account to a hacker and given them everything in it. Ouch!
  • Impersonation: This one will blow your mind. Get this, scammers create accounts pretending to be celebrities, brands, or influencers to amass followers. They then use this fake popularity to push malicious links or deceptive content. I’m sure you’re thinking, “Come on, who’d fall for that?״ Well, the truth is that nowadays, with AI advancements like chat GPT, deepfake videos, and voice generators, you’d be surprised at how real some of these fake accounts look. I mean, who wouldn’t give Taylor Swift or Keanu Reeves a follow, we’re only human.
@unreal_keanu Life with a girlfriend. #keanureeves #relationship #girlfriend ♬ original sound - Unreal Keanu Reeves
  • Money-making schemes: Who doesn’t love making some easy cash? I know I do! Scammers know all about the draw of the promise of easy money, so they use it to their advantage. They open scammy TikTok accounts that appear legit and trustworthy and promise substantial returns for seemingly simple actions. For example, they’ll ask followers to share specific posts, like a series of videos, or engage with content in a particular way. In a more direct technique, these accounts may ask you to pay a registration fee, promising lucrative rewards or exclusive access to money-making opportunities in return.

So what’s the big deal? Well, the catch is these rewards are non-existent. For example, you might be asked to pay a small fee to join an 'elite' group of influencers or to get a supposed inside track on a 'guaranteed' investment opportunity, only to find that the promised returns are a mirage.

In these schemes, the scammers benefit from either the small fees collected from a large number of followers or from artificially inflating engagement on their content, which could be monetized or used to enhance their credibility for future scams. Unfortunately, by the time you realize the truth, the scammers have disappeared, leaving you empty-handed.

  • Malware distribution: Links in TikTok profiles or video descriptions can redirect you to sites loaded with viruses, giving criminals access to your personal devices and data. The links, often found in a user's profile or in the description of a TikTok video, might appear harmless. However, clicking on them can redirect you to external websites loaded with malicious software or viruses.
When you land on these sketchy sites, viruses can automatically download and install onto your personal device. This malware is engineered to infiltrate your system and gain unauthorized access, the consequences can be horrible. It might lead to criminals hijacking your personal information, like login credentials, financial data, or sensitive personal details. This information can then be exploited for identity theft , financial fraud, or unauthorized access to your accounts.
  • Dodgy behavior: TikTok scammers often use sophisticated social engineering techniques to emotionally manipulate people. They craft online personas and relationships, gaining trust and affection over time. This calculated approach is not just about a quick scam; it's about building a connection with you that feels genuine and deep.

These scammers typically create scenarios that play on your emotions, like faking romantic interest or fabricating personal crises. For example, you might encounter someone online who seems like your knight in shining armor and, over time, appears to become your ideal romantic partner. As your 'relationship' develops, they might share stories of hardships or emergencies, like a sudden health issue or a financial setback, designed to tug at your heartstrings. Guess whose door (or screen) they’ll be knocking at for financial help? That’s right…. You!

Similarly, a scammer might pose as a friend (a hijacked account) in distress, perhaps stuck in a foreign country without money or facing a legal problem that they can't solve without financial help. Scammers are super creative when it comes to the narratives they craft (if only they’d used their imagination for good). The stories vary, but most of them have a common theme of a sense of urgency and desperation, compelling you to act quickly and without your usual caution.

In both scenarios, the ultimate goal is to exploit your empathy and concern to extract money. They might ask for funds to be transferred directly or suggest sending gift cards or other untraceable means of financial support. Once the money is sent, the scammer often disappears, leaving you both financially and emotionally drained.

This method is particularly nasty because it preys on human kindness and the natural desire to help others, especially those we believe we have a personal connection with.

Despite TikTok’s dedicated digital security teams working hard at scam prevention and attempting to remove fraudulent content and accounts, scammers continually create new ways to bypass these measures. It’s really important to be aware of these common scamming techniques so you can avoid losing your cash, finances, and even your identity. Just like what happened to Julian, a budding musician from San Francisco.

TikTok musician taken for a ride

Julian had recently found a new stage for his talent on TikTok. He used the platform to share clips of his guitar performances and song covers, slowly building a following. Bedazzled by the potential of reaching a wider audience, he spent hours crafting content and engaging with other users on the app.

His aspirations took a turn when he encountered a profile on TikTok, self-proclaimed as a 'TikTok Growth Expert.' This account promised significant follower growth for $14.99, a small fee to pay for the potential of getting more followers. Eager to amplify his music’s reach, Julian, a bit naively, decided to take a chance and paid the fee, hoping for a surge in his online presence. I mean, what did he have to lose? It’s only 15 bucks, he thought to himself.

However, the outcome was far from what he expected. Shortly after the transaction, Julian noticed odd activities on his TikTok account. It started following random profiles and posting spammy comments under his videos. Worse, he discovered unauthorized transactions in his bank account. It became clear that scammers had hijacked his TikTok account and accessed his financial information.

Julian being scammed

The repercussions were severe. Julian had to work painstakingly with his bank to dispute the fraudulent transactions and secure his financial account. He also faced the daunting task of regaining control of his TikTok account, undoing the damage done by the scammers. The experience left him feeling vulnerable and exposed, a stark contrast to the creative freedom he initially sought on the platform.

This incident made Julian realize the importance of cybersecurity solutions. If he had Guardio , a digital security browser extension, and a mobile app, he might have avoided this ordeal altogether. Guardio offers protection against suspicious online activities and phishing attempts and could have alerted him to the scammer's fishy techniques. It would have flagged the risky transaction link, preventing his TikTok account from being hijacked and the theft of his financial information.

Investing in internet security tools like Guardio became a priority for Julian, ensuring his online presence and personal data remained secure as he continued to share his music with the world.

Here’s how Guardio’s digital security solutions keep you safe:

  • Email protection: While you might interact with various platforms, including TikTok, Guardio protects against phishing and secures your email against fraudulent attempts that could be disguised as legitimate communications from these platforms. Even the most cunning scammers, who might evade your standard spam filters with emails mimicking TikTok, your bank, notifications, or other platform alerts, will be detected and blocked by Guardio, safeguarding your personal information.

  • Dangerous website blocking: As you navigate from TikTok to other corners of the internet, Guardio is constantly on guard. It alerts you to and blocks harmful websites, including scam pop-ups and phishing sites that you might encounter through TikTok video links or elsewhere. This protection is critical in preventing hacking attacks that can compromise your accounts across various platforms.

  • Comprehensive text filtering: Guardio's mobile app is expertly designed to filter out text messages containing harmful content and potentially malicious links, which are common tools used by hackers to compromise your security. This feature acts as a vigilant gatekeeper, scrutinizing incoming texts to identify and neutralize threats hidden in seemingly innocuous messages. It's a crucial line of defense in an era where digital communication channels, including SMS, are frequently exploited for phishing attacks and other cyber scams.

  • Social account protection: Guardio's Account Protection feature stands as a bulwark against the escalating threats of social media account hijacking. This sophisticated online safety measure meticulously secures the session cookies within your desktop browser - the very lifelines that keep you seamlessly logged in on popular platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

  • Family-wide security: Guardio's coverage extends beyond individual protection, offering a comprehensive security solution for up to 5 family members. This is especially important considering the widespread appeal of platforms like TikTok across various age groups. It ensures that each family member, whether they're scrolling through TikTok or exploring other online spaces, is safeguarded against a spectrum of online threats.

  • 7-day free trial: Explore Guardio’s protection with a 7-day free trial. This trial period allows you to experience how Guardio protects you from threats across various platforms, offering peace of mind as you and your family enjoy the digital world.

Ready to flip the switch on TikTok scammers?

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Stay safe on TikTok: Avoiding scams with smart habits

Navigating TikTok can be a fun and engaging experience, but as we’ve mentioned, it’s not always kicks and giggles. By understanding the tactics scammers use and adopting best practices, you can enjoy TikTok's vast creative content without falling prey to deceptive tricks. Here are some safety tips that will always come in handy:

  • Be skeptical of unbelievable offers: If something seems too good to be true, like free giveaways or easy money-making schemes, it probably is. Scammers often use these offers to lure people in.

  • Keep personal information private: You wouldn’t give a stranger you met on the street access to your private information, would you? The same applies to people you meet online. Never share sensitive information like your address, phone number, or financial details on TikTok or with someone you've met through the app.

  • Use strong passwords: Protect your account with a strong, unique password and change it regularly. Avoid using the same password across different social media platforms.
  • Enable multi-factor authentication (MFA): Using multiple verification methods adds a significant layer of security to your account, making unauthorized access much harder.
  • Report suspicious behavior: Inform TikTok about any potential scams or fraudulent activities by using the reporting options available on profiles, messages, comments, and videos.
  • Look for verification badges: Trust accounts that have official verification badges, especially those belonging to well-known brands, celebrities, or organizations. The absence of a verification badge can be a warning sign. But, regardless of a badge or not, don’t share your personal details, passwords, or any other private information.

  • Avoid clicking on unknown links: Scammers use links to phish for personal information or to install malware on your device. Don’t click them! These deceptive links often appear harmless but lead to fraudulent websites or trigger downloads of malicious software designed to steal sensitive data or gain unauthorized access to your device.

  • Stay informed about new scams: Keep up to date with the latest scamming tactics on TikTok by following credible online safety resources or TikTok's official online safety announcements.
  • Be cautious with new contacts: Exercise caution when dealing with unfamiliar TikTokers, especially if they seek personal details or promote questionable products or services.

The bottom line

It's clear that TikTok holds endless creativity and connection but also harbors hidden risks, and embracing it requires a balanced approach of awareness and the right security measures.

That’s where Guardio comes into play, offering powerful protection against the multifaceted threats on TikTok and beyond. From safeguarding emails to blocking malicious websites and filtering harmful text messages, Guardio is an essential shield in the digital realm. It extends its protection to your entire family, ensuring comprehensive safety across various online platforms.

In essence, while TikTok remains a platform for sharing and creativity, recognizing and countering its associated online risks is crucial. With smart habits and the support of tools like Guardio, you can enjoy TikTok's vibrant landscape with confidence and security.

Tango with TikTok without tripping over scams.

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