Home Advice & How-ToSafety Ideas, Discussion and Fraud: Your Guide to Reddit Scams
Home Advice & How-ToSafety Ideas, Discussion and Fraud: Your Guide to Reddit Scams

Ideas, Discussion and Fraud: Your Guide to Reddit Scams

by Fred Decker

It’s always fun to chat with people about things you’re interested in.  Sometimes that’s easy: you can get up a pretty good conversation about your local sports team just about any day in any bar, for example.  It gets harder if your interests are less common, or (at least) poorly represented in the place you live. 

That’s the beauty of online gathering places like Reddit.  With its truly ridiculous number of subject-specific discussion forums (aka subreddits), you can find someone to talk with about almost anything, or to answer almost any question you might have.  Unfortunately, scammers see Reddit — like any other popular site — as a place they can find victims.  We’ve got you covered with a quick look at some of the scams you’re likeliest to see there. 

Buy-and-Sell Reddit Scams

Reddit was designed as a place for people to talk about things, not to transact business, but inevitably some subreddits — those dealing with games, computer parts and collectibles (and their related fandoms) spring to mind — have spawned lots of buying, selling and trading.  The problem is that Reddit doesn’t have the kind of guarantees and protections in place that purpose-built marketplaces have, and it lacks even the rudimentary protection you’d get from user/seller reviews. 

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Predictably, this means scammers often target both buyers and sellers.  Sellers may be coaxed into shipping a product (or performing a service) with payment to come on approval, or buyers may be wheedled into paying for something that they never receive.  Sometimes — when the scammer is an amateur and the intended victim is a security pro — that goes badly for the scammer, but usually the shoe is on the other foot. 

So how can you tell who’s safe to buy from?  One data scientist applied his programming chops to the question, with some success.  You might not have the skills to use his actual code, but his findings provide some useful (if common-sense) insights: the longer a user was active on Reddit, the more they’d contributed to the subreddit (check their karma and gold) and the more successful transactions they’d had, the less likely they were to be a scammer.  You can also check Reddit’s current Universal Scammer List search tool, or the ban list for a given subreddit (like this one from r/hardwareswap). 

Fake-Merchandise Reddit Scams

This is a specialized form of buy-and-sell scam, but it’s worth calling out as its own category.  There are a lot of subreddits which are openly and explicitly dedicated to the appreciation of a really good fake product as something worthy in its own right.  That’s all well and good, as long as all parties know that they’re dealing in fakes. 

Unfortunately, good-faith trading isn’t always what’s going on, which is a concern for both the name brands themselves and for consumers.  For brands, fakes can erode the value of their (genuine) fashion items.  For consumers, if you’ve paid for a brand-name product and gotten a replica — even a very good replica — well, you’ve been scammed.  Avoid this one by following the same advice given for shopping in general, and — as always — assuming that an impossibly low price is impossibly low for a reason. 

Cryptocurrency Reddit Scams

Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Ethereum and the meant-as-a-joke Dogecoin are the subject of a lot of buzz right now among amateurs and serious investors alike, but very few people actually understand how they work.  That makes the whole field of crypto a fertile hunting (or phishing) ground for scam artists

One recent scam invited users to help a (fictitious) company test the efficiency of its crypto wallet site by sending them Bitcoin or Ethereum, which would be returned with a premium to pay you for your trouble.  Spoiler: that doesn’t happen, and your money is gone.  Many other scams come in the form of a tip about a remarkable opportunity to increase your money in a hurry by rapidly buying and selling crypto, and profiting on the currency’s volatility.  If you click that link you’ll be taken to a site which takes your (real) money and shows you heady (fake) gains for several weeks, but you never actually get to cash out (they may even add insult to injury by charging you for “withdrawals” you’ll never see). 

That being said, if you’re active in one or more investment subreddits and happen to lose money on the rise and fall of a currency by investing in it directly, that doesn’t mean it’s a scam.  All investment decisions have a degree of risk, and crypto is riskier than most.  If you get caught up in the hype and lose money on legitimately purchased cryptocurrencies, that’s regrettable but ultimately it’s on you.  Avoiding outright scams and volatile investments ultimately both come down to not letting greed cloud your judgment. 

Reddit Phishing Attacks

Another fairly common risk to watch for on Reddit is phishing attacks.  Given the freewheeling nature of the site, the vast number of subreddits and the comparatively limited number of moderators, it’s easy for an attacker to drop a malicious link into a thread.  If the link leads to a well-executed page — one especially brazen attack a few years ago even spoofed the Reddit log-in page — it might not come to a moderator’s attention for a while. 

Once you click through to the link, of course, scammers have any number of ways to take advantage.  Your computer might be loaded up with malware or ransomware, or you might simply be prompted to log into what looks like a legitimate site only to have your username and password stolen (as with the fake Reddit page).  The answer, as always, is to never click a link from someone you don’t really know. 

Use Your Judgment

At the end of the day, most of the scams you’ll run into on Reddit are the same handful you’ll see everywhere else: there’s a lot of overlap with social-media scams, Craigslist scams, payment-app scams and so on. 

That means the simple, commonsense precautions you use elsewhere will work on Reddit as well.  Don’t click links from strangers.  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  Don’t take your communications off-site, because your Reddit username is as anonymous as you’ve chosen to make it, but your real-life email address, phone number or messaging-app “handle” might be more useful to an identity thief (not to mention the chances of being scammed go up exponentially once they’ve got you in a one-to-one situation). 

You don’t need to live your online life in fear, on Reddit or anywhere else.  Just educate yourself about current scams, and maintain an attitude of healthy skepticism about the motives of others.  Those simple guidelines will go as far as anything toward keeping you out of trouble.