Social & Influencers

TikTok is full of alleged scam artists pretending to be real advertisers

Fake accounts are running scammy ads for major brands like L.L. Bean and Le Creuset. A media director told us they’re likely bought through TikTok’s self-serve platform.
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Photo Illustration: Dianna "Mick" McDougall, Source: Getty Images

· 7 min read

Sean Winterhalter wanted a treadmill. His young son and a global pandemic made it hard to get to the gym, so he was in the market for exercise equipment he could use at home.

He started noticing a TikTok ad for a seemingly discounted slim treadmill called the Treadly in November, but it wasn’t until after the holidays that he clicked on it. He made the purchase through PayPal and was swiftly sent a receipt bearing a language he didn’t recognize. He didn’t know who he paid, but he knew it wasn’t Treadly, a US-based company.

He later made a video on TikTok detailing his plight with the hashtag #didigetscammed.

“Did TikTok scam me?” he asked his viewers. Well, somebody did.

Alleged scam artists are running ads and posing as real brands on TikTok, offering ludicrous deals to swindle unsuspecting users. Alongside suspicious-looking ads for Treadly, Marketing Brew saw questionable ads for L.L. Bean, Le Creuset, Bowflex, and Wayfair.


That these fake accounts appear to be valuable to bad actors signals TikTok’s ascension as an advertising partner, as Facebook and Twitter have long wrestled with similar scams and fake accounts. And now, scams are showing up in the feeds of TikTok’s at least 1 billion users.

“I feel like one of those old people that get scammed by those Nigerian prince’s emails,” Winterhalter told Marketing Brew. “I would think that TikTok, being a multi-billion dollar [company], and it being a social media platform, would take pride in everything that it hosts and everything it’s advertising to protect its patrons…You’re letting people get scammed.”


One video seen by Marketing Brew shows what appears to be an ad for Le Creuset, complete with its branding and logos. In it, a woman unpacks her kitchenware and admires the brand’s famous bright-orange hue. The video says a 20-piece cast-iron set costs only $79.99 as part of a “clearance sale,” which is the first major 🚩: These sets retail for as much as $1,799.95.

fake accounts on TikTok


“It looked to me to be too good to be true,” said Sarah Baird, who screenshot and shared questionable Le Creuset advertisements with Marketing Brew. “No way you’re getting a piece for $50 or $60, or whatever the price was advertising.”

Baird says she reported the ads to TikTok in December, but was still seeing them “quite frequently” as of February. “It feels like this is very pervasive, and represents a high percentage of the ads that I see when using the platform,” she told Marketing Brew.

For many of the ads seen by Marketing Brew, oftentimes there’s no profile attached, and users can’t leave comments (Advertisers are able to hide comments on their ads but, you know, they could actually be useful for users to warn people of said possible scam). If you click on the profile of one of these fake accounts, you’re frequently brought to sites like or (this one has since been shuttered).

These sites resemble your typical e-commerce site, pitching cookware sets, nonstick frying pans, or baking tins for average or below market value.

At, the site’s About Us page says it belongs to a company called Abigail Boutique based in Sterling, Virginia. There actually is an Abigail Boutique in Virginia, but its owner told Marketing Brew it doesn’t own the site, and that it was probably run by scammers.

How’d this happen?

These ads are most likely bought via TikTok’s self-serve platform, explained Kevin Renwick, associate media director at the agency Mekanism who’s used the platform.

Still relatively new—TikTok opened its self-serve ad platform in July 2020—it’s a meaningful revenue stream for a platform trying to triple its advertising revenue this year from $4 billion to $12 billion, according to a LatePost report cited in eMarketer last month.

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“TikTok has strict policies to protect users from fake, fraudulent, or misleading content, including ads, and we remove any content that violates our Community Guidelines, Advertising Guidelines, and Terms of Service. In this case, we removed all of the ads you brought to our attention and permanently suspended the advertisers,” said TikTok spokesperson Ashley Nash-Hahn in an email sent to Marketing Brew.

Though she said any ad running on TikTok passes through “multiple layers of verification before receiving approval,” Nash-Hahn declined to say whether or not these advertisements were bought using the company’s self-serve platform. However, she did state that the company removed 3,392,630 ads between July 1 and September 30, 2021.

“It’s so easy to emulate another brand…if it looks legit, it’ll pass through,” Renwick told Marketing Brew, noting that advertisements that are flagged usually show too much skin, or are too text-heavy.

Users should look for marks of verification, like a blue check mark, if they’re concerned about being scammed, he said, noting that this isn’t a “uniquely TikTok phenomenon at all.”

In fact, according to the Federal Trade Commission, social media scams accounted for $770 million in 2021, nearly a quarter of all reported fraud losses in the US and almost triple the $258 million lost in 2020.

Plus, research from the social media analytics firm Ghost Data found that Facebook has struggled to remove sellers hawking counterfeit luxury goods like Gucci and Chanel. Ghost Data identified more than 26,000 active counterfeit accounts operating on Facebook from June–October and more than 20,000 on Instagram. In October, Meta updated a tool for brands to search and report counterfeit sellers.

“With any site, any platform, there is going to be a degree of imperfection, and everybody’s got their faults. You’re dealing with like, billions of people; things will go wrong,” said Brendan Gahan, partner and chief social officer at Mekanism.

Nate Collier, Le Creuset’s director of marketing communications, confirmed to Morning Brew that it has reported faux accounts to TikTok for using the brand’s IP. “Accounts sometimes get shut down, but a new one will pop up,” he wrote over email. “It is not causing a big consumer backlash for us. Users seem to police it themselves without a rigorous screener from the platform.”

An L.L. Bean spokesperson told Marketing Brew that it’s encouraged customers to report fake accounts they’ve seen, though the company declined to detail whether L.L. Bean has used TikTok as an advertising channel.

Becky Alseth, SVP and CMO of Nautilus, the company behind Bowflex, told Marketing Brew over email that it’s aware of “product scams and, when possible, proactively reports them to the associated social media platform, including TikTok.” She added that Bowflex does not currently advertise on TikTok, “so any ads on the platform are not affiliated with our family of connected fitness brands.”

Marketing Brew reached out to Treadly, but received no response.

Another victim of the fake Treadly ads, Shelby Spray, said she blames the platforms for not stopping the issue.

“I think that if you’re going to allow ads to be on a platform, then your user should have some sort of reassurance that they’re not going to get ripped off,” Spray told Marketing Brew.

She won’t be shopping on TikTok anytime soon.

“I’m done…I don’t think I would click on a link through the platform; I would go through an actual browser and go to the website directly,” Spray said.

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Marketing Brew informs marketing pros of the latest on brand strategy, social media, and ad tech via our weekday newsletter, virtual events, marketing conferences, and digital guides.