Your Guide to YouTube Scams and Tricks

5 steps to protect yourself from YouTube abuse: Internet Scambusters #471

YouTube is one of the Internet’s runaway successes, turning us into a nation of amateur videographers.

But you also need to know how crooks use YouTube to steal information and money from their victims, or as a gateway to unsavory sites.

Because of its popularity, the site is also haunted by weirdos who post obscene comments or evil types who search for videos of children.

Being aware of these potential threats is the key to staying safe on YouTube, as we explain in this week’s issue.

Now, here we go…

Your Guide to YouTube Scams and Tricks

The online video site YouTube is one of the most successful and heavily used areas of the Internet, with over 3 billion videos viewed every day and uploads equivalent to 240,000 feature films every week.

Sadly, that popularity also makes it a lucrative target from crime, ranging from scams and account hijackings to illegal use of the YouTube name and abusive videos and comments.

YouTube, which is owned by Internet giant Google, has lots of security checks in place and offers guidance on things like phishing and hijacks, but the sheer scale of the operation makes it virtually impossible for the organization to monitor videos and comments as they’re posted.

So, for example, as we disclosed a few months back in our report on Ponzi schemes, The Top 10 Ways to Avoid Being Sucked into a Ponzi Scheme, the Better Business Bureau claims there are at least 23,000 YouTube videos promoting fraudulent investment schemes.

Let’s take a look at the most common types of YouTube scams and other “red flags,” and what you can do to prevent them catching you out.

Phony Products

From pyramid schemes to claims you can run your car on water — you’ll find them all on YouTube.

The problem is that promoting an idea or product via video somehow gives the claims extra credibility.

We’re more inclined to believe what we see, especially if the video is disguised to look like a TV news bulletin or an interview with a supposed happy customer.

One current investment scam to be aware of is a video presentation inviting viewers to get in ahead of initial public offerings (IPOs) of new technology stocks.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) has more details in their article, Pre-IPO Offerings–These Scammers Are Not Your Friends.

Link Click Tricks

There are all sorts of ways crooks use the YouTube name to lure victims into giving away personal details or downloading malware.

For example, they send you an email with a link supposedly to a YouTube video.

Instead you’re taken to a page that looks exactly like the real thing but you’re asked to sign on, thus enabling the scammer to hijack your account.

In one common case, you’re asked to provide your cellphone number before you can view, and you’re then charged via your phone bill, either for a one-off viewing or some sort of recurring service.

Other link click tricks they use include emails claiming to be from YouTube itself and inviting you to get in touch (via a link) because your video has been removed or because it’s the most popular item on YouTube.

Alternatively, you may get a message saying your version of the Adobe Flash video application needs to be updated before you watch.

When you click the “update and install” link, a virus is actually installed on your PC.

Another frequent virus trick is to send victims an email or post a message on their Facebook page claiming a revealing video of them has been posted on YouTube.

Again, you’re taken to a spoof YouTube page that uploads malware.


We wrote about typosquatting in an earlier report, Beware of Typosquatting and New Identity Theft Warnings.

Tricksters set up websites with very similar names to genuine sites. They just change one letter, or swap the letters around, to take advantage of users mistyping the sitename (a mistake commonly referred to as a “typo”).

Depending on where you end up, you may be the victim of a scam or just bombarded with advertisements.

A well-known typosquatting address (we’re not giving it out!) takes you to a page that looks similar to YouTube, but it doesn’t use the name and thus stays within the law.

You’re asked to complete a “survey,” which involves giving personal details including your cellphone number. Again, you’ll find a charge on your phone bill.

Phony Comments

One of the key elements of the YouTube service is the ability for subscribers to leave comments on videos.

This is used for a range of tricks involving bogus postings.

For example, a phony product video of the sort mentioned above may also have favorable comments from fake customers.

In other cases, posters use the comment facility to promote their own products or include malware links.

Abuse and Pranks

Some YouTube videos contain nasty scenes, unsuitable for most adults, let alone children.

In other cases, individuals post abusive and offensive comments, peppered with foul language.

In the meanwhile, unsavory characters prowl the YouTube listings looking for videos that have innocently been uploaded by children or teens (of themselves).

We don’t need to tell you what these nasty people are up to. Just make sure your kids are aware of the risk.

And a word of warning to parents of tweens and younger kids: one Scambusters team member was shocked to discover that the #1 result when searching for a certain cable all-cartoon channel was an adult film with an expletive laden description of the “cartoon.” Sometimes even innocent searches can return some nasty results. Be aware.

Sometimes, of course, people produce videos that pretend to be of genuine events but are really spoofs.

YouTube is full of these and they are mostly harmless — provided you realize at the outset that they’re not real.

However, a group of young pranksters were recently arrested for faking an attack in a parking lot, which they were recording for a YouTube video!

What You Can Do About YouTube Nasties

We’ve only just exposed the tip of an iceberg when it comes to potential YouTube related scams.

The organization itself posts numerous warnings on its site. The best starting point to learn more about how to protect yourself is the YouTube Safety Center.

Beyond that, the key to staying safe is to follow these five rules:

  1. Be wary about clicking on links to YouTube videos. If you do click, check the address bar carefully when you arrive to ensure that it contains “” If it contains another word before that — like “” — it’s not YouTube.
  2. Even if you key in the address yourself, check that you spelled it properly.
  3. Be skeptical about the videos you watch and never take action purely on a recommendation you see either in a video or comments. Always take further advice.Similarly, be skeptical about videos that seem to portray something sensational. It may just be a clever spoof.
  4. Be aware yourself and warn your children about the public nature of any videos you or they post.It is possible to post videos for private sharing only. The option presents itself when you upload.
  5. Be prepared to be shocked — and, again, warn your kids appropriately.

If you see a video or comment you find offensive, report it to YouTube. You can also click the “flag as inappropriate” icon located just below the video, to the right.

The advent of YouTube has turned us into a nation of amateur filmmakers, and it’s a great way of sharing experiences and ideas both with friends and the public generally.

But YouTube works best only if it’s used responsibly, viewed cautiously and considered skeptically.

That’s it for today — we hope you enjoy your week!