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TikTok scammers make $500,000 by promoting fraudulent apps: Report

Audrey Conklin
·3 mins read

Bad actors on TikTok have garnered about $500,000 by promoting scams on the social media app, according to a new report.

After one 12-year-old reported suspicious behavior on TikTok, digital security firm Avast found that at least seven adware scam apps pushed by at least three users on TikTok have been downloaded 2.4 million times globally.

“We thank the young girl who reported the TikTok profile to us, her awareness and responsible action is the kind of commitment we should all show to make the cyberworld a safer place," Jakub Vávra, threat analyst at Avast, said in a statement.

A TikTok spokesperson told FOX Business that all three TikTok accounts pushing scams have been removed.

Some of the apps were disguised as safe apps that actually contained malware, which can infect devices like iPhones and Androids. One such app called "Shock your friends" simply caused devices to vibrate; others included wallpaper apps and music downloaders that cost users between $2 and $10, according to the report.

The adware scam apps "violate both Google’s and Apple’s app policies by either making misleading claims around app functionalities or serving ads outside of the app and hiding the original app icon soon after the app is installed," Vávra said.

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Researchers found at least three profiles that were touting the scam apps on TikTok, one of which had more than 300,000 followers.

"It is particularly concerning that the apps are being promoted on social media platforms popular among younger kids, who may not recognize some of the red flags surrounding the apps and therefore may fall for them," Vávra said.

A Sept. 17 report from The New York Times found that a third of TikTok users could be under the age of 14.

TikTok users have the ability to report suspicious behavior on the app, which uses a combination of human moderators and artificial intelligence to catch bad actors.

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"TikTok is committed to protecting the safety and integrity of our community. As we make clear in our Community Guidelines, we do not permit fraudulent behavior, including scams that could erode the community's culture of trust," a TikTok spokesperson told FOX Business. "While we encourage users to use TikTok to express themselves, we remove content and accounts that seek to mislead others."

Researchers also discovered that an Instagram user with 5,000 followers was similarly touting the scam apps, meaning the practice may span multiple social media apps.

Users should be wary of downloading apps and always look at reviews, pricing and alternatives before downloading.

“In addition to the seven apps, we also noticed the app developers have more apps, with very low downloads and reviews, but the handful of reviews they have are extremely positive and enthusiastic, which can also be a sign that something is suspicious," Vávra said.

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Users should also pay attention to permissions that apps request before downloading.

"The Android app 'ThemeZone - Shawky App' requests access to a device’s external storage, which can include photos, videos, and files, depending on how the storage is used. Accessing external storage is not a must for a wallpaper app," Vávra said.

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