Scammers are increasingly misusing YouTube’s short video format YouTube shorts, stealing existing short-form videos from TikTok and reposting them to the platform to garner millions of views and gaining tens of thousands of subscribers, according to new research, published today by Tenable’s Staff Research Engineer Satnam Narang.

According to the report, these scams typically fall into three categories- adult dating affiliate scams, promotion of dubious retail products and weight loss supplements and stealing TikTok videos to increase social currency (views and subscriber counts).

YouTube Shorts is a relatively new platform that is gaining a large base in India since the ban on TikTok. 

“After YouTube Shorts was launched in India in 2021, the platform became increasingly popular and now has 3.5 billion daily views,” as per the report.

Explaining the scams he’s observed, Narang said, “Over the last decade, I’ve watched scammers migrate from platform to platform. It is almost a rite of passage for a new service or platform when scammers deem them worthy to ply their trade. While the way these scams operate will vary based on each platform and its unique nuances, the types of scams are all very familiar.”

Fake channels

Scammers have been creating fake YouTube channels and flooding them with videos stolen from TikTok, including dance challenges, to abuse affiliate marketing strategies employed by adult dating websites. These sites offer payment based on a cost per action (CPA) or cost per lead (CPL) basis. 

“Scammers can generate a relatively healthy income by duping users of social media websites to click links pinned at the top of the comments of their YouTube Short videos,” the report explained.

For instance, one video alone earned 10 million views from YouTube shorts. Once the visitor of an adult dating website is converted to a registered user, the scammer is eligible to receive payment ranging anywhere between $2 to $4 for the successful CPL conversion.

“If there’s been one common thread amongst all of the research I’ve done on social media over the last decade, it’s that adult dating is at the forefront of scams on rising platforms and services,” added Narang. 

“The introduction of YouTube Shorts, with its enormous potential reach and built-in audience, is fertile ground that will only serve to help these scams become even more widespread. This trend is alarming because of how successful these tactics have become so quickly on YouTube Shorts, based on the volume of video views and subscribers on these fake channels promoting stolen content,” he said.

Narang also identified scammers offering dubious products. 

In one instance, he identified a number of scammers using stolen TikTok footage of women at the gym in order to promote gym leggings priced at $34.99. However, similar leggings were available on AliExpress for $12 less. 

“The concern with these scam advertisements is that there is no guarantee the item being purchased will arrive, or the quality be as advertised,” the report said.

Scammers were also found leveraging stolen TikTok videos to increase the views and subscriber counts for their existing YouTube channels, in a bid to generate an income from advertisements and brand deals from their channels. 

Narang said, “One user has received over 78 million views on their channel, but if you look at a breakdown of their actual content, it’s the videos that they did not create that have the greatest engagement numbers. There are also a number of YouTube channels that have been created solely as hubs for stolen TikTok content, similarly to gain social currency.”

Scamsters capitalise on subscribers

Based on an analysis of 50 YouTube channels that he encountered, Narang further determined that these channel operators have received 3.2 billion views across at least 38,293 videos. In total, the channels had at least three million subscribers at the time this research was conducted. 

“Scammers are able to achieve this success by capitalising on the newness of YouTube Shorts and its existing user base of 2 billion monthly logins,” the report said.

Narang concluded, “Scammers won’t go away easily. They are determined to capitalize on the massive success of platforms like YouTube Shorts and TikTok. Leveraging existing functionality within YouTube to report these channels is truly the best way for users to help clean up the platform. That is, until the next big social platform emerges and scammers eventually find their way there.”