Teens under the age of 14 become prime targets for scammers on TikTok

Teens under the age of 14 become prime targets for scammers on TikTok
Over the past year, TikTok has tried to put distance between its app and its Chinese owners. (Source: CNN)

ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - TikTok is quickly moving up the ranks as one of the top social media platforms for adolescents. So far in 2020, the video-sharing app has set a record for the most downloads of any app in a single quarter with 315 million downloads, surpassing 2 billion downloads total.

Social media use among teens and children is nothing new. It has continued to increase with each new platform from MySpace to Facebook, to Twitter to Instagram and now to TikTok.

“TikTok came out with these little short videos that really started drawing kids 18 and under,” Julie Wheeler, president of the Better Business Bureau Serving Western Virginia, said.

Research done by cyber-security firm Tenable found a third of TikTok users are under the age of 15. Tenable also found in the United States, 4-14-year-olds now spend an average of 80 minutes per day using the app.

“Any time you see something like that, as with all other social media, the scam artists and people trying to take advantage are not far behind,” Wheeler said.

The BBB recently released information on some common swindles to be on the lookout for.

First, the use of TikTok to get users to visit illegitimate sites or even to pay money for special accounts on other platforms.

“Sometimes it’s dating services; sometimes it’s a premium account on a different social media platform that doesn’t even exist,” Wheeler said.

Second, scammers try to get users to do silly or even suggestive and inappropriate things with the lure of getting paid.

“Usually there is no payment,” Wheeler said. “This is a flat scam. Anybody who has gotten paid, it’s usually estimated like $0.23.”

Even in a world where “influencer” is a legitimate job title, it’s important that users not fall for accounts that offer to pay for the content or ask you to pay them for likes and followers.

“You’ve got to be very careful,” Wheeler warned, adding you should be especially vigilant when it comes to the ads that pop up on your feeds.

Many of them entice users with the promise of easy money in some kind of pyramid scheme.

“You’re promoting getting people off the social app to get people on a dating app to sign up under the guise that you’ll get paid for all the ones you get signed up,” Wheeler explained.

Sometimes users are targeted to sign up for free samples or answer free polls.

“A lot of times what happens is you think you signed up for something free, but you’ve actually subscribed,” Wheeler said. “So you’re going to start getting something every couple of weeks or every month and you’re going to get charged for it.”

Also, be wary of dropshipping scams where you’re the go-between for a company and a consumer to ship goods.

“Anytime you’re signing to ship other stuff, you want to make sure you know who you’re shipping for,” Wheeler said. “You want to make sure it is legitimate, that the products exist and that you can get paid.”

While many TikTok users simply pass the time by scrolling through videos and sharing them with friends, anyone creating content should be also mindful of what they post.

“You’ve got to be very careful of anything,” Wheeler said. “Clicking on that, signing up for anything, promoting something or even doing something on a video that could be used down the road against you.”

A single post could mean the difference between you getting a job or not down the road. A 2018 Career Builder Survey found 70 percent of employers use social media to screen candidates before hiring.

That includes teens who might be years from entering the job market.

“Which is why education is so important, especially with an app like this which tends to be more popular among the 14 and under crowd,” Wheeler said.

While there are privacy settings, TikTok is still in its early phases of development and many controls aren’t yet available to protect kids from certain content or to identify and block fake accounts.

Click here for more Better Business Bureau resources on protecting yourself and your kids from TikTok scams.

Copyright 2020 WDBJ. All rights reserved.