Over the last several months, YouTube Shorts, Google’s instanthookups login 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 , 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.
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.
- 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.
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.
With TikTok challenges receiving billions of views, it’s no wonder scammers are stealing them and repurposing them on YouTube, to an audience that iliar 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.
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.