YouTube Scams – How to Avoid And Prevent Them

Brandon King
Last Updated November 29, 2023

Source: Christian Wiediger

Who doesn’t love YouTube?

The platform has billions of videos about every subject imaginable. 

It’s easy to navigate, search, and follow the creators and content you want.

In a nutshell, the entertainment possibilities are endless – and almost always, free.

Another great thing about YouTube? It feels safe compared to the rest of the Internet.

There is no worry about downloading a “bad” file, clicking on a spammy link, or providing your payment information. 

The worst that might happen? Just see too many annoying ads.

Unfortunately, it’s not so simple. YouTube has a dark side

Just like everywhere else online, hackers, criminals, and scammers have found ways to use the YouTube platform to help launch schemes and find victims – and it works. 

Not only is this less rare than you might expect, but it’s also more effective than you would ever imagine. 

YouTube scams are something you are likely to come across. And you know what? You’re more likely to fall for them than you think. 

Information is your very best defense. We created this guide to help you identify YouTube scams and prevent them from hurting you (or anyone else). Before streaming another video, explore this guide for a few minutes. It could save you from an attack on your identity, your accounts, or your life. This is from the last place you expect: YouTube.

What are YouTube Scams?

YouTube scams are any fraudulent activity that takes advantage of YouTube, the company, to perpetuate schemes. 

Scammers can use the platform to find victims, make dubious claims, or pressure victims into providing information or money. The scams may be happening in the videos, the comments, or in some combination of both. 

You might be wondering: What counts as fraudulent activity? Does anything that bends, stretches, or breaks the truth on YouTube count as a scam?

It doesn’t. 

In fact, YouTube is full of videos and comments making exaggerated or fabricated claims. And they don’t count as “traditional” scams necessarily. 

Why is that

Well, because these videos aren’t trying to directly steal your money or information. Instead, the content in these videos uses lies and manipulation to influence your behavior. 

YouTube videos are a format that provides countless ways to string people along. And the platform is so vast that scams have ample places to hide. It’s really the perfect place for scammers (more on that later). 

This is why there have already been many successful YouTube scams, some quite severe. And why the problem will likely only get worse. 

Examples of YouTube Scams

YouTube scams take many different forms—and they evolve and become more effective all the time. Scammers will use whatever tactics work the best, so they return to the same or similar methods frequently. Below are some examples seen throughout YouTube. 

  • Investment Scams – A video will make bold claims about an investment opportunity that you can learn about by clicking a link or visiting a URL. The investment is fake. And if the website does not automatically download malware, it tricks visitors into giving up personal or even payment information. You might also see people pushing investment scams in the comments for other YouTube videos, especially videos about making money or cryptocurrency. 
  • Giveaway Scams – A video will offer prizes or rewards (especially gift cards) to whoever visits a particular website or takes some other action off of YouTube. Watch out for these scams in the comments as well, particularly on videos with a legitimate giveaway offer. Scammers will reply to comments with something like “You’ve won, visit this website to claim your prize.” It’s all a lie to steal your money or identity. 
  • Impersonation Scams – A video will use the same name and profile pic as content from a popular YouTube channel only with slight alterations (e.g. a period mark or a “3” instead of an “E”) that most people don’t notice. By impersonating legitimate content creators, scammers give authenticity to their videos or comments and lure in a particular fan base. 
  • Recovery Scams – A video will offer to help viewers recover funds lost to scams or hackers… But first, they must pay a small fee for the service by visiting a website other than YouTube. This type of scam will also appear in the comments of videos talking about avoiding or recovering from fraud. 
  • Adult Scams – A video will use explicit content to get attention, then promise additional content by visiting a certain website. Comments from someone with a provocative profile picture will try to run similar scams. 

The vast majority of YouTube scams fall into one of these four categories. But so does lots of legitimate content. For example, plenty of people offer investment advice on YouTube and encourage you to visit their website for more information without it being a scam. 

We will dive deeper into how to spot YouTube scams a few sections later. First, though, let’s fill in a big piece of this puzzle – why is YouTube such a popular place for scammers?

The Explanation Behind YouTube Scams

How many YouTube scams are on the platform at any one time?

YouTube does not release that data. In fact, it probably isn’t sure. There’s no way to police every single video and comment, so it’s inevitable that scams will end up on YouTube

Making it even more inevitable is the fact that YouTube is the second most popular website online with over 87 billion visits every month. Just as pickpockets go to places with lots of people, online scammers congregate around the most popular websites. YouTube provides no shortage of possible victims

Many of those victims are younger people since kids are impressionable and often allowed to browse videos unsupervised. For many scams, a kid only needs to click the wrong link for the damage to start. And since scammers have few if any scruples about who they exploit, they will target kids on purpose

One more thing that makes YouTube a paradise for scammers is the fact that you can easily create profiles and post content. You don’t need much time or money to get started. That means just about anyone with bad intentions can get started with YouTube schemes. 

And they’re unlikely to get caught or punished. It’s uncertain if the scammy videos or comments will get taken down by YouTube staff. 

Here’s the takeaway: It’s up to you (and only you) to keep yourself safe on YouTube. We’ll show you some strategies later on. Before that, let’s highlight what’s at stake. 

Risks of YouTube Scams

Let’s use an example to illustrate how YouTube scams can go from bad to worse

Someone watches a video about crypto investing and notices a comment endorsing investing advice from a particular “guru” with a link to visit their website. 

Clicking that link goes to a website that looks legitimate enough, with a sign-up for free crypto investing tips form. Just enter a name, email, and phone number, and click a button to download a guide at no cost

Except what looks like free advice is actually a cyber attack.

You see, the download secretly contains malware that installs a keylogger on your computer. It starts recording your keystrokes, including your account credentials, and sending that info to scammers. Then things start to get really bad. 

With full access to your private accounts – email, banking, retirement, social media, you name it – scammers steal your identity and start impersonating you with ease. They open up bogus accounts, rack up fraudulent charges, and commit illegal acts in your name. 

Getting your identity stolen ends up costing you thousands of dollars (or far more) to resolve. And that’s on top of all the time, stress, and embarrassment it involves as well. Getting your identity stolen is one of the most disruptive and destructive events that can happen to anyone. 

The damage cuts deep. Even worse, full recovery is rarely swift or certain. There’s really no limit to how bad things can get. And to think….it all started because of a YouTube video. 

This is a potent reminder to never drop your guard when you’re online. We start to show you how in the next section.

man holding black Android smartphone

Source: Rachit Tank

Signs of YouTube Scams

A YouTube scam video isn’t dangerous on its own. If all you do is watch a video or read a comment and nothing more, nothing bad has happened. If you recognize a YouTube scam when you see it, you can avoid whatever might cause you harm. It’s your best weapon. Here are some red flags to watch for:

  • Links – Almost all YouTube scams push you to other websites. Of course, legitimate videos include links too, and YouTube allows content creators to include links. However, if the link is all that the video contains, or if misleading content was used to advertise the video, be very suspicious of where the link leads. As a general rule of thumb, avoid clicking anything on YouTube that leads off-platform. 
  • Video Age – Research into YouTube scams shows that most of these videos have been on the site for less than a year and come from accounts with relatively little activity. This makes sense: Scammers create new accounts frequently, and when one scam video gets taken down it gets replaced by another. Legitimate videos are also new at some point. But if you’re on the fence about whether something is a scam, video, and account age are strong indicators. 
  • Authenticated Identities – YouTube puts a checkmark next to an account name after it has been linked to a verified identity—similar to Twitter. If a video or comment claiming to come from a well-known YouTube personality doesn’t have the check mark next to it, it’s an impostor and likely a scam. However, keep in mind that less-famous YouTube channels may not have a checkmark even when they’re real. 
  • Subject Matter – The same research cited above showed that most YouTube scam videos focus on specific subject matter: gift cards, technical support, mobile gaming, and cryptocurrency. Now, scam videos can take up other subjects. Plenty of real videos talk about these subjects too. But the reality is this: these subjects attract scammers, so use extra caution when exploring these corners of YouTube. 

How to Avoid YouTube Scams

Smart browsing can help you avoid the vast majority of YouTube scams

Watch out for the red flags we covered above. Never click a link or type a URL without thinking about where it came from and where it might lead. Take all recommendations and advice with a grain of salt. 

Finally, be careful about what information you include in comments or videos you post to YouTube.

You can avoid most scams this way…but no one can avoid every scam in every situation

Now wait, you’re probably saying. I would never fall for a scam on YouTube. Most victims said the same thing. Anyone can fall for the right YouTube scam if it arrives at the right time and place. And by assuming that you’re immune to these scams, the odds of falling for one only go up

You’re never 100 percent protected from YouTube scams or any other for that matter. So what do you do about the scams you can’t stop? 

Protect Against YouTube Scams

Here’s the single best defense against scams: act like they’re inevitable

If you assume that scams will not only target you – on YouTube and across the Internet – but also succeed at some point, you would do something about it, right? Taking a few common sense safety measures lowers the risk of YouTube scams significantly: 

  • Use a Password Manager – Once scammers have your username and password, they can take over your account(s) and cause all kinds of chaos. Password managers such as Bitwarden or 1Password make it easy to use more secure passwords that you change regularly (without forgetting what you changed them to). For most people, password managers make account logins easier than before. They only make life harder for scammers. 
  • Enable MFA – Multi-factor authentication (MFA) grants you access to an account after you provide a username and password plus an additional way to authenticate yourself: a code sent through text or email, a prompt sent to your phone, or even a biometric fingerprint scan. MFA puts one more layer between your accounts and the scammers trying to sneak inside, even if they have managed to steal your credentials. Turn MFA on for all your accounts. 
  • Get Identity Theft Protection – You usually don’t know you’ve been scammed until after the damage occurs. Identity theft protection looks for early warning signs you’re being targeted by a scam or already the victim. It sends you notifications so you can take action early and hopefully stop the damage before it starts, or else keep it small before it grows. Some identity theft protection providers, such as Aura, also offer services to help you fight back against scams more effectively and faster.

Prevent More YouTube Scams

You play an important part in keeping scams off YouTube.

If you discover a video you believe is a scam, report it to YouTube. Below the video, at the bottom right, you will see three small dots. Click those to bring up a list of options, including one labeled “Report” with a small flag icon next to it. 

Selecting Report brings up a list of reasons this video should not be on YouTube. Select which one looks appropriate—most likely the one labeled “Spam or Misleading.” 

Videos reported to YouTube get reviewed by a moderation team. If they deem the video to be a scam or otherwise in violation of site policies, the video will be removed, and the account that posted it may be removed as well. 

It would be easy to see a YouTube scam, ignore it, avoid it, and go elsewhere. But taking an extra moment to report the video helps get it removed from the platform so that someone else doesn’t fall from it. And the more videos get taken down, the less attractive YouTube looks to future scammers.

Final Thoughts on YouTube Scams

Here’s the hard truth: As long as YouTube exists, YouTube scams will too. They’re not going anywhere as long as impressionable people gather on YouTube by the billions. 

You probably don’t want to remove YouTube from your rotation of favorite websites. So you need to browse and stream with caution. Watch for the warning signs outlined above. And never trust claims outright, especially if something seems fishy. 

Identity theft protection is the final (and missing) piece of the puzzle for many people. Scams are everywhere online, they can be very hard to see, and some are quite convincing. Going just about anywhere on the Internet puts you, your family, and your finances at risk…potentially quite serious risk. Identity theft protection keeps you safe from the scams you recognize and the ones you don’t. That way you can browse YouTube or the rest of the Internet without as much risk.

You still need to be safe and smart. But with identity theft protection, you don’t need to be worried.

Other Social Media Scams To Watch Out For: