As more musicians turn to livestreaming as a way to connect with fans and raise money, scammers are seizing the opportunity to steal information

Before “stay at home” orders related to the novel coronavirus shut down music venues across the country, Baltimore electronic musician Dan Deacon was scheduled to perform at Skully’s Music-Diner tonight (Wednesday, April 22). But like so many other recent concerts, the show was postponed.

Still, for disappointed Columbus fans who were hoping to catch Deacon at Skully’s, there seemed to be a glimmer of hope hiding amid a sea of Facebook events. An account called “Above beyond” posted an event titled “Livestream: Dan Deacon at Skully's Music Diner, Columbus [22 April 2020] LIVE!” A link on the event page promised an HD video stream of Deacon (“Visit, Sign Up and Enjoy!!”), an artist who performed live on Instagram just last week. 

The link brings up a page with a video player in the middle of the screen, and flashing lights in the lower-right corner that indicate “2270 Users Online Now.” Before watching the concert, though, a large “Register Now” button asks viewers to enter some information.

And that’s where the scam begins. There is no livestream of the Dan Deacon show at Skully’s.

“I had no idea this was even a thing, let alone happening to me,” Deacon said via email through his publicist. “There has been a real uptick in crimes against musicians. I've heard about studios and practice spaces getting robbed, idle tour vehicles getting broken into and now these fake live streams. … It’s important for fans to remember to always check an artist's official accounts, and to check to make sure the account they are checking is either verified or the real account for the artist.”

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Livestream scams aren’t entirely new; YouTube has been dealing with them for years. But as more and more musicians (including Columbus bands) turn to livestreaming as a way to connect with fans and raise money while anticipated touring revenue has dried up, scammers are seizing the opportunity to solicit personal information from unsuspecting victims.

“You see the human ingenuity here in inventing a new attack,” said Ohio State cybersecurity professor and information theorist Aylin Yener. “Whenever there's an opening, such things happen. Right now there's this generosity on the side of the artist, and that's open to the general public, who are not necessarily as exposed to electronic attacks, as, say, academics or corporate [entities]. This is kind of a breeding ground for cyber attacks.”

While the tactics and strategy might be unfamiliar to some, Yener said these livestream scams belong to the same family of cyber attacks as phishing emails, in which spammers and hackers posing as trusted entities attempt to acquire someone’s valuable information. “Look closely before you commit financially, even if you think it's going to be a donation,” Yener said. “Look closely to see whether this is an actual event, and whether this is an actual, valid link. … Some of these have looked quite authentic, and people fall for them for that reason.”

On the Facebook page for Above beyond (one of many Facebook shell accounts hawking fake livestreams), recent victims recount entering their credit card information during the so-called registration process but never seeing the promised livestream concerts.

Even if an account doesn’t explicitly ask for financial information, Yener said to think twice before entering any kind of personal details. “Remember that your personal information is as good as giving money, or worse,” she said. “It might be just asking you to register at the link, and then it collects your personal information, and that leads to a lot more serious issues like identity theft.”

That said, don’t let livestream scams scare you away from virtual concert experiences. With a little vigilance, the cons are easy to spot. And musicians who depend on income from touring need the support of fans during this time of isolation. And you, in turn, could probably use the morale boost that comes from watching a favorite artist perform live, even through a screen.

“Don't let these scammers get to you or get you down,” Deacon said.