Today I want to discuss a problem that has plagued YouTube for years but has become worse in recent months: YouTube giveaway scams. These scams are driven by accounts that impersonate popular YouTube channels and spam the comments to lure victims with fake giveaways. My frustration has evolved into cynicism as this problem has become worse over the years. Let’s talk about that.
If you aren’t familiar with the giveaway scam, it goes something like this:
An account using my profile picture and some bastardization of my channel name will spam my comment section, responding to every comment, telling other commenters that they have won a prize. Usually the scammer’s account name includes some contact info like a Whatsapp number or Telegram handle, and they tell everyone to contact them there. Although the vast majority of people will recognize this as a fake account, a few people may not look closely enough and fall for it.
After reaching out to the scammer (thinking it is me), users will be told that they must send money to cover shipping costs in order to receive their prize. Once the money is sent, that person will be blocked and no prize will ever arrive. That’s when these users begin looking for answers and then they find me. I’ve been contacted by viewers of my channel who fell for these scams – still not realizing they had been scammed – telling me where I can send their prize. That’s when I have to be the bearer of bad news and tell them that there is no prize and they were not talking to me. A few times I’ve been met with cynicism and hints that perhaps I am the one who is scamming these people.
Another variation, found mostly on financial videos, is more difficult to spot. There will be a comment about Bitcoin or crypto, followed by an exchange about some miraculous financial advisor who made that person loads of money. This conversation ends with this amazing financial guru’s contact info being given out publicly. The entire conversation is fake, with hopes that unsuspecting viewers will also reach out to that address. In my case, I typically only get the giveaway scams in my comments.
Even if no one were to be scammed by these bots, they make for an ugly comment section full of spam. But people are being scammed, and I am the one who has to tell them they’ve been duped.
For my part, I block these impersonation accounts as I see them. I also block words, phrases, and symbols they commonly use, and I report each one of them to YouTube as impersonation accounts. I’ve kept track of many of the accounts I’ve reported, and to date I’ve only seen two of them (out of dozens reported) that were actually removed. The rest have changed their profiles to imitate other popular channels and continue to scam the YouTube community without any ramifications.
It’s easy to find these scammers by doing a simple search on YouTube. One example is a search for “telegram me at” and filter by channel. You’ll see dozens, if not hundreds, of fake accounts, all using profile pictures of popular YouTube channels – and all of them potentially scamming viewers of YouTube.
That begs the question: If most YouTube users can spot these scammers so easily, and if it’s so easy to find them with a simple search, why does it seem so difficult for one of the largest and most high companies in the world to filter them out?
The cynic in me is reminded of the ongoing drama between Elon Musk and Twitter. After offering to take over the company in early 2022, Musk later recanted due to the number of fake accounts found on Twitter, and the platform’s lack of transparency on the issue. Why would Twitter want to hide or minimize the number of fake accounts reported on the platform? These social media sites need big numbers to sell advertising and satisfy stockholders. They need users and they need traffic – and these are both provided by spammers, scammers, and bots.
TikTok recently took over the #1 spot from Google, and Google has been trying to get back to the coveted #1 spot ever since. It would appear that they’ve decide the best way to do that is to leverage their YouTube subsidiary to eat away at TikTok’s dominance of shortform video. Thus, YouTube Shorts were born. I’m not knocking YouTube Shorts as I’m a fan of shortform content. I’m active on TikTok and I even have a dedicated channel just for YouTube Shorts where I post short content daily.
But if YouTube/Google is scrambling to become King of the Hill again, would it be in their best interest to cleanse YouTube of all fake accounts, even if it’s only a few percent of total users? In a competitive multi-billion-dollar industry, being #1 matters, and a few percentage points of traffic or users could potentially sway that ranking. I have no doubt that YouTube deletes some of the most egregious examples of scammers and fake accounts, but far too many fly under the radar for too long.
YouTube continues to offer token solutions, such as an “Increased Strictness” comment moderation option for uploads, which has done absolutely nothing in the months I’ve been using it. They also recently announced handles, which they say will help ensure that people know they are communicating with the real accounts. I’m skeptical of this solution because my verified status on YouTube has not stopped scammers from impersonating me. They will simply use a variation of my handle just as they do now with my channel name. They rely on people not looking too closely at the name in order to fool them.
It would seem to me that YouTube – IF they were serious about this problem – could easily figure out this out. Let’s imagine the following criteria for evaluating comments:
- Leaves numerous, identical comments on the same video in a short period of time.
- Uses the same profile picture as the channel it’s spamming.
- Has numerous reports from users.
- Includes a variation of the channel’s name in its channel name.
As obvious as that seems to us, YouTube somehow hasn’t figured out that this is a blueprint for an impersonation scam? Call me cynical, but this seems too easy for them to claim “we’re working on it” for years.
For now, I will continue to block and report these clowns. I actually pay someone to monitor my comments and alert me if they see a scammer slip through all of the blocked words I’ve implemented. I’ll continue to beg YouTube to do more, but I don’t hold much hope for a comprehensive solution.
If you want to hear another YouTube discuss this, watch the opening minute of this recent video by Daym Drops, who has also been expressing frustration about these scammers in recent weeks.
Hopefully I can revisit this page in the near future and realize I was totally wrong about YouTube’s ability or desire to get rid of these accounts, but I’m not holding my breath.
Note: For transparency, I own stock in Twitter and Google’s parent company Alphabet.