Technology

These dangerous fraudsters don’t even bother to hide their crimes

In a series of posts on a Telegram channel highlighted by Warner, who is also involved with Intelligence for Good, a cybercriminal is seen telling others how to carry out a sextortion scam. They say they tricked people into sharing nude pictures by posting screenshots of the conversation and explaining how other people could replicate it. “Hey, I’m posting your nudes on social media and Facebook,” reads an example message that cybercriminals could use. “Not only am I publishing it, but sending copies of it to your region,” the message reads, before asking for $700.

While such scripts are shared across social media channels, WIRED found at least 80 on the document-sharing service Scribd. The company removed them after WIRED contacted them, and a spokesperson said they did Limits on what people can upload and that the Company performs automated and manual checks to remove content. “We are actively building new features to expand the scope of content moderation coverage to include a broader range of text and image violations of concern,” the spokesperson says. Some of the scripts had been online since 2020, and pages where they were removed recommended other scam scripts in a “suggested reading” section.

Raffile says the Yahoo Boys have been able to “thrive” online “due to a lack of moderation on all the illegal material” they share. “They act with impunity because they feel like they’ll never get caught,” Raffile says.

Beyond messaging platforms, the Yahoo Boys have a presence on TikTok and YouTube. “We design our app to be inhospitable to those who seek to exploit our community, and we have removed this content because it violates our policies,” a TikTok spokesperson said.

“Our policies prohibit spam, scams, or other deceptive practices that exploit the YouTube community,” says a YouTube spokesperson. “We also ban videos that promote illegal or dangerous activities. As a result, we have terminated the reported channels for violations of our policies and terms of service.” They add that the company removed accounts for violating harmful content policies, spam, and general violations of its terms of service.

The accounts posted tutorials on how to scam people, linked to groups on messaging apps, and promoted fake video call technology. On TikTok, several accounts contain carousels of images that the scammers can use in their efforts to create credible personas. Some of these include posts from older women for scammers who need “grandma pictures to prove” their false identities, and others for scammers who need “children’s pictures” for their victims.

In addition to posing a threat to thousands of people around the world, the Yahoo Boys can quickly adopt new technologies. David Maimon, a professor at Georgia State University and head of fraud analysis at identity verification company SentiLink, has done so Yahoo Boys monitored for years and says their techniques have evolved alongside new technologies.

“To build a relationship with victims, fraudsters first used text messages, then started sending recorded audio messages, and now use deepfake tools to communicate live with victims,” Maimon says. “In some markets we are now also seeing the use of cloned voices. This now includes sending physical items such as gifts, food deliveries and flowers to victims.” In some groups, they use “nudification” tools to convert photos of clothed people into nude photos Deepfake video calls.

Although the Yahoo Boys have been active for years, all experts interviewed for this article said they should be treated more seriously by social media companies and law enforcement. “It’s time we look at Yahoo Boys as a dangerous organization, transnational organized crime, and give it some of these labels,” Raffile says.

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