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YouTube combats WhatsApp scam comments from fake accounts

A picture illustration shows a YouTube logo reflected in a person's eye

A picture illustration shows a YouTube logo reflected in a person's eye

Published Jul 6, 2022

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Johannesburg: As one of the largest de facto public forums on the internet, the YouTube comment section has unsurprisingly attracted all flavours of bad actors since its beginning in 2005.

YouTube’s content moderation has had to constantly adapt to new schemes from frauds, virus pedlars, and advertisers.

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With YouTube’s algorithms effectively filtering external links and overtly suspicious messages, the trend is to get people to move to messaging apps like WhatsApp – where fraudsters can communicate away from Google’s prying eyes.

Since YouTube has censored users posting phone numbers for reasons like this, scammers will try to skirt this by hiding numbers in their usernames and using unusual special characters.

Sometimes the message is off topic to the video, often featuring something absurdly basic such as “Wow, it’s already here!! Come check it out”.

Sometimes the scam account will put in a bit of effort, like the overwhelming amounts that pretend to be cryptocurrency traders/investors/miracle-makers.

A big problem is impersonators, who try to mimic a large YouTuber’s account by matching their picture and using obscure text characters for the channel names, which look indistinguishable at first glance.

This usually happens on give-away videos, where hopeful viewers are told they have won, but then tricked into paying some kind of “shipping fee” to the person impersonating their favourite crypto influencer.

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Another common tactic is using a profile photo of a half-naked woman, usually stolen from a pornstar or obscure Instagram influencer.

Overtly salacious comments would be picked up by YouTube’s filters, so the accounts leave vague messages about being single or use ridiculous, suggestive emojis.

While it seems silly that the comments would tempt anyone to reach out to these “people”, the relentless volume of this kind of spam suggests that someone somewhere must be making these scams viable to maintain.

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YouTube has finally tried to address some of the problems with an announcement of updates to its filters and moderation practices.

It will be removing the option for channels to hide its subscriber counts in comments, a feature which made it much harder to quickly spot impersonators.

YouTube will also be limiting the kind of special characters you can use in your channel name, to tackle phone number spam and impersonation.

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While the changes will help, they are just a tiny escalation in the constant arms race between grifters and platform moderators. It is likely that the types of scams will just move to Telegram, where contact can be made using just a username and no phone number, making it a tactic difficult to filter out.

IOL Tech

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