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YouTube Shorts: Stolen TikTok Videos Manipulated in Adult Dating, Dubious Products Scams for Views and Subscribers

YouTube Shorts targeted by scammers

As Google's TikTok competitor YouTube Shorts gains viewers, hordes of scammers are quick to follow.

Background

Over the last several months, YouTube Shorts, Google’s competitor to TikTok, has become a haven for adult-dating scams and the promotion of dubious products. It has also been used as a short-cut to increase online social currency, such as subscribers and video views. All of these scams have one thing in common: the use of stolen TikTok video footage.

Released into beta in March 2021, YouTube Shorts allows YouTube channels to upload short-form videos that appear on YouTube in a separate carousel, with a dedicated menu button and vertical scrolling, similar to TikTok’s feed.

While YouTube creators are leveraging the new platform to create short-form video content, scammers are finding staggering success, based on engagement metrics, by stealing existing short-form videos from TikTok and reposting them to YouTube Shorts, racking up millions of views and gaining tens of thousands of subscribers. They are able to achieve this success by capitalizing on the newness of YouTube Shorts and its existing user base of 2 billion monthly logins.

Example of YouTube Shorts carousel in YouTube app featuring stolen TikTok videos
Example of YouTube Shorts carousel in YouTube app featuring stolen TikTok videos
Image Source: Tenable, December 2021

In the example above, there are two videos stolen from TikTok users participating in viral TikTok challenges. One video earned 10 million views from YouTube shorts, one of the more successful videos I encountered during my research.

Based on my experience with researching these scams, they primarily fall into three categories:

  • Adult dating affiliate scams
  • Promotion of dubious retail products and weight loss supplements
  • Stealing TikTok videos to increase social currency (views and subscriber counts)

Adult dating affiliate scams thrive on YouTube Shorts

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. Therefore, it’s no surprise that YouTube Shorts are rife with adult dating scams.

Scammers are creating fake YouTube channels filled with videos stolen from TikTok, including dance challenges like Buss It and Big Bank as well as other challenges, like Wear It Big and Why Aren’t You In Uniform. These fake YouTube channels typically pin a link at the top of the comments of their YouTube Short videos. These links go through a series of redirects before landing on an adult dating advertisement.

YouTube Shorts video featuring a comment that leads users to an adult dating website.
Image Source: Tenable, December 2021

These advertisements are part of an affiliate marketing strategy employed by adult dating websites to generate more leads. To incentivize affiliates, these websites pay based on a cost per action (CPA) or cost per lead (CPL) basis. However, scammers have been abusing these affiliate offers to generate profits by duping users of social media websites. All a scammer needs to do is convince users to visit these adult dating websites and sign up with an email address, whether it’s legitimate or not. Once the visitor of an adult dating website is converted to a registered user, the scammer is eligible to receive anywhere from $2–$4 for the successful CPL conversion.

Example CPL affiliate offer for WellHello
Example CPL affiliate offer for WellHello
Image Source: Tenable, December 2021

With TikTok challenges receiving billions of views, it’s no wonder scammers are stealing them and repurposing them on YouTube, to an audience that may not be familiar with them. Many of the videos I encountered did not have the TikTok watermarks often seen in downloaded videos, meaning they were downloaded using specialized software.

In some cases, YouTube channels are using stolen TikTok videos for engagement, rather than to promote the adult dating websites themselves; yet, even these videos are nonetheless being bombarded with comments promoting adult dating scams.

Example comments promoting adult dating spam on YouTube Shorts videos.
Image Source: Tenable, December 2021

While adult-dating scams proliferate across many platforms, 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.

Dubious products find a new home on YouTube Shorts

As I’ve outlined in my past research on TikTok scams, dubious products are another popular vehicle for scammers. From my research, I found scammers using stolen TikTok footage of women at the gym in order to promote gym leggings.

YouTube Shorts using stolen TikTok videos of girls at the gym to promote leggings and shorts
Image Source: Tenable, December 2021

These leggings are being sold on a Shopify store, which is employing the dropshipping technique, whereby the scammers operate as a middle person, as their products originate from websites like AliExpress.

Shopify page selling leggings for a higher price than AliExpress
Image Source: Tenable, December 2021

When users purchase the leggings from these advertisements, they are paying a higher price than what the scammers are quoted for the leggings. For instance, I found a similar pair of leggings on AliExpress offered for $12 less than on the Fashion Leggings page. The major concern with these advertisements is that scammers cannot guarantee the item being purchased will arrive, or arrive as advertised.

Cheaper priced leggings from AliExpress directly
Image Source: Tenable, December 2021

In addition to leggings, I’ve seen scammers promoting a weight loss program involving smoothies.

YouTube Shorts workout motivation promoting miracle weight loss product
Image Source: Tenable, December 2021

Traditionally, weight loss scams on social media are designed to get users to sign up for a free bottle of diet pills in an effort to trick them into submitting their credit card details in order to bill them after a trial period. However, in this instance, it appears the scammers are leveraging a very generous affiliate program for this smoothie diet product.

Miracle weight loss affiliate program offering
Image Source: Tenable, December 2021

Unlike the adult dating affiliate offer I outlined earlier, this affiliate program is driven by Cost Per Sale (CPS). For CPS offers on this weight loss program, affiliates can earn a 75% commission on the front-end product, as well as potential upsells, which could net an affiliate up to $100 per sale. CPS offers are often the most generous because they are much harder to convert.

Affiliate program for smoothie product is very generous according to a reviewer
Image Source: Tenable, December 2021

Stolen TikTok videos to gain social currency on YouTube

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Social currency is one facet of an economy that fuels scam activity on social platforms like TikTok. As a platform, YouTube provides creators with avenues to make money through advertisements and brand deals that are often tied to subscriber counts. Traditionally, scammers would seek out dubious services they could use to pay for YouTube views and subscribers. As YouTube and other platforms have sought to penalize creators and channels for fake engagement, scammers are using stolen TikTok videos to gain social currency using content that doesn’t belong to them.

YouTube Channel using stolen TikTok videos to drive engagement on their page
Image Source: Tenable, December 2021

Creators are using stolen TikTok videos, the same types of videos used to promote adult dating websites, to drive up their views and subscriber counts. For example, 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.

Proof that Stolen TikTok videos are driving up engagement to the tune of millions of views
Comparison of videos from a YouTube channel showing the massive success from using stolen TikTok videos compared to other content on the same channel
Image Source: Tenable, December 2021

There are also a number of YouTube channels that have been created solely as hubs for stolen TikTok content, similarly to gain social currency.

YouTube channels dedicated to using Stolen TikTok videos for engagement
Image Source: Tenable, December 2021

A pitfall these channels face is that they are also being inundated with comments promoting adult dating websites.

Example of YouTube comments promoting adult dating scams
Example of YouTube comments promoting adult dating scams
Image Source: Tenable, December 2021

Scammers net at least 3.2 billion views on YouTube

Example of YouTube Channel with 775,000 subscribers and over 759 million views from stolen TikTok content
Example of YouTube Channel with 775,000 subscribers and over 759 million views from stolen TikTok content
Image Source: Tenable, December 2021

Based on an analysis of 50 YouTube channels that I’ve encountered, I’ve determined that the operators of these channels have received 3.2 billion views across at least 38,293 videos. In total, the channels had at least 3 million subscribers at the time this research was conducted.

The following is a sampling of some of the notable channels I’ve come across in my research and their associated engagement metrics as of December 8, 2021:

Channel Name Category Creation Date Subscribers Videos Views
ALISA Adult Dating 6/3/2021 N/A* N/A* 759,270,743
KYLIE-LUNA Adult Dating 5/8/2021 N/A* 78 300,118,427

MAYA

Adult Dating 6/19/2021 203,000 1,275 150,175,940

[REDACTED]

Leggings 2021

Dubious Products 7/30/2021 94,100 549 101,953,680

[REDACTED]

Data

Social Currency 1/6/2021 N/A* 3,328 78,530,840

[REDACTED]

Life

Dubious Products 7/15/2021 55,100 2,767 42,563,808

Please note this is not an exhaustive list, so the figures shared here are likely an undercount of the true numbers of views, videos and subscribers amassed by scammers using stolen content from TikTok.
Source: Tenable, December 2021*Missing data points are due to either the removal of a channel or because a channel has chosen to hide subscriber count data to the public.

Every new service and platform is an opportunity for scammers

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 find their footing. While the way these scams operate will vary based on each platform and its unique nuances, the types of scams are carried over from platform to platform. Even though YouTube has been around for 16 years, the YouTube Shorts product is essentially a new platform altogether, which is why I am not surprised to see scammers inundating the service in the way that they have.

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.

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