TikTok is a multifunctional social app if there ever was one. The hub of short video content has been designed to entertain, has become a search engine for Gen-Z users, and has even been harnessed for social good and activism.
But the app is no stranger to controversy, likely because it wields unprecedented levels of power. This power is derived from a colossal user base, immense popularity with influencers and brands alike, and rising dominance over rival platforms. So this castle of content, with billions of users, has inadvertently developed into an ideal starting point for scams, which are increasingly taking over.
TikTok’s search suggests misinformation almost 20 percent of the time
Across social media, the regularity of TikTok scams is well-documented. The subreddit r/Tiktokhelp features dozens of inquiries and posts about scams of TikTok posted in the last 10 months alone. A scroll through the forum shows just how commonplace scams or alleged scams are on the platform: Users warn of scam accounts, share emails they’ve received that appear suspicious, and disclose various instances in which money-making scams have taken place.
Over on Twitter, people outline scams they’ve witnessed and meme-ify the ubiquity of them. When I posted a call on Twitter to find out if people have actually faced such scams, I got a DM from someone who wished to remain anonymous — but told me that she lost $24,000 over the course of two hours in a TikTok scam.
TikTok itself has a wealth of information on scams, making the company’s “stance” clear: “At TikTok, we prize user safety and content authenticity.” Last October, during Cybersecurity Awareness Month, the company launched the #becybersmart campaign to “foster a culture of cybersecurity.” Videos under the hub are dedicated to learning from cybersecurity experts and enhancing awareness around staying smart online.
Suffice to say, TikTok scams are a real, ongoing trend, and something to note if you count yourself as one of the app’s many loyal users. Here are five prominent scams to look out for on your feeds.
In June 2022, Singapore-based paper Today looked into the job scam. A journalist was offered SGD$200 per day for a social media-esque job, one he did not apply for or know anything about. Messages from recruiters across TikTok began increasing, with many asking said journalist for bank account details and even sending threats.
This isn’t an isolated story. There’s been an uptick in seemingly prestigious and well-paying job offers via TikTok. The subject “job scam” has 5.3 million views on TikTok, with videos narrating the many job offers people have received, with attractive stipulations and for companies that largely don’t exist.
The app says that these scams will likely include a “registration fee,” which “victims never recover.” Like many cyber-scams, these exchanges also involve providing personal information.
Pyramid and ponzi schemes
In 2021, TikTok banned “investment schemes with promises of high returns,” like Ponzi schemes. They also forbid pyramid schemes, or the business model in which additional investors are periodically recruited. Such schemes are prominent on TikTok, so much so that the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) warned users to beware of high-risk investments on the app, investing advice from TikTok users, and promises of high returns.
Mobile game scams
If you’re a gamer and a TikTok user, you’ve likely come across the many game scams that have plagued the app. These have largely been situated around Roblox, with frequent and “baffling” Roblox-centric scams taking place. In fact, “Roblox scam” and its corresponding videos on TikTok have 8.9 million views and counting. Many of these sorts of scams, whether for Roblox or other apps, are in the shape of in-app purchases at cheaper rates or no cost at all. They often involve clicking a link — which can then expose users to various losses.
TikTok’s #BeCyberSmart included warnings against romance scams.
Ahead of Valentine’s Day this past February, TikTok released a statement from Lloyd Temple, financial crimes investigator at the company. Temple and TikTok warned against rising romance scams, in which “so-called suiters” obtain private information, ask for funds, offer cryptocurrency deals — you name it. If anyone’s watched Netflix’s The Tinder Swindler, you know that the consequences of this sort of scam can be multilayered and piercing.
Recommendations for discerning these sort of scams include taking it slowly and looking out for red flags or anything that seems amiss.