TikTok scammers are pretending to be medical professionals and altering before-and-after weight loss videos in order to sell potentially dangerous products promising rapid results, and they’re racking up millions of views.
It is no secret that TikTok has a problem controlling the spread of weight loss scams and other unregulated products on the platform; this new one involves users misrepresenting health care professionals or stealing others’ weight loss videos to mislead people into buying potentially dangerous weight loss products. TikTok's community guidelines prohibit “frauds and scams” as well as “medical misinformation that can cause harm to an individual's physical health."
Media Matters has identified multiple accounts engaging in this fraudulent behavior. These accounts promote the same dangerous weight loss product in three different ways: using stock photos of health care professionals to mislead viewers, recycling the same video of a doctor to suggest a product is approved, and editing users’ before-and-after weight loss content to suggest they used dangerous products and benefited.
Using stock photos of professionals to trick users into thinking products are approved by medical providers
Some scammers are using stock photos of medical professionals as profile pictures to appear legitimate. Below are two separate accounts with the same profile picture of what appears to be a smiling medical professional. Both account bios link to the same weight loss product, and every video on each account is dedicated to promoting that product.
A simple reverse Google image search revealed that this profile picture is a stock photo.
Another account, using a stock photo of a doctor, is also promoting a weight loss coffee and promising quick weight loss. The product is also linked in the account’s bio.
Recycling the same video of a doctor nodding and smiling, edited as a reaction to the weight loss product
A video of what appears to be a doctor nodding and smiling is also being used to help promote weight loss products on TikTok. It seems that the video is stolen and the clip has been reposted (sometimes with the orientation flipped) as a reaction video to doctored weight loss videos promoting unproven products.
Editing real before-and-after weight loss videos from TikTok users in order to promote the product
Multiple accounts we identified are circulating edited before-and-after weight loss videos. Between the before photo and the after images, a video of the product is inserted as an attempt to trick users into thinking the product caused the depicted weight loss.
One user featured in the scams called out the fraud. “This is my video! I did not lose weight drinking ‘Special’ Coffee please report anyone who uses this video trying to make money,” she wrote in overlaid text.
Scammers have managed to rack up millions of views and thousands of followers
Scam videos have racked up millions of views, and the related accounts continue to grow. This is all happening even though TikTok’s community guidelines prohibit “frauds and scams.” There are real life consequences to this kind of scam: According to the FDA, “‘miracle’ weight loss supplements and foods (including teas and coffees) don’t live up to their claims” and can result in serious injury or death.
The “weight loss coffee” being sold on TikTok promises to reduce “weight as quickly as possible.” It encourages users to drink the caffeinated product before exercise and meals.
TikTok must begin aggressively enforcing its own community standards and protect its users from dangerous weight loss scams.