Ozempic Craze + TikTok = Scams:
Bad Actors are Dangling Weight Loss Drugs to Con Americans Out of Their Money

Exploiting Americans’ craving for Ozempic, online scammers are relying on TikTok to dangle easy access to prescription weight loss drugs to con Internet users and steal their money, a joint investigation by the Digital Citizens Alliance and the Coalition for a Safer Web has found.

The three-month investigation uncovered at least sixty operators, some claiming to be pharmacies or medical professionals, active on TikTok. These operators offer to ship Ozempic, Mounjaro, and Wegovy. The sales pitch is enticing. Buyers can get the drugs without a prescription and can quickly complete the orders using services such as Zelle, Paypal, or Venmo. But once a would-be buyer shells out hundreds of dollars, the drugs are never shipped and the only thing lighter are Americans’ bank accounts.

“The moment is tailor-made for scammers to take advantage of American consumers,” said Tom Galvin, executive director of the Digital Citizens Alliance. “An estimated one in six people say they take Ozempic or other weight loss drugs and just as many are considering it. That’s a target-rich environment for criminals and other bad actors. It’s alarming that TikTok allows these scammers to operate so freely.”

TikTok Hosts Dozens of Scammers Peddling Ozempic and Other Weight Loss Drugs – But the Only Thing Likely to Get Lighter is Americans’ Bank Accounts Click to Tweet

The investigation found all the hallmarks of a scam: easy access to hard-to-get prescription drugs. Quick payments via financial apps – but only if funds are listed as “friends and family” so it is more difficult to get refunds. Demands to see the payment information in hopes of collecting a target’s banking information. And, finally, a ruse claiming that a “holdup in customs” requires an additional refundable payment.

It’s a safe bet that ByteDance, TikTok’s Chinese owner, doesn’t tolerate similar scams that target users in China using its version of the social media platform called Douyin. The differences in the experiences have been compared to “opium and spinach” due to the tight restrictions that ByteDance places on content that Chinese users see.

The investigation also shines a light on TikTok’s role in helping these scammers find potential victims. Once investigators searched for weight loss drug sellers on TikTok, the social media platform’s algorithms drove even more sellers their way by suggesting to follow, or alerting them they were being followed by, TikTok Channels offering illegal weight loss products.

“It starts with Americans searching on TikTok, then TikTok makes it so drug peddlers and scammers search and find them,” said Eric Feinberg, Vice President of the Coalition for a Safer Web. “TikTok’s algorithms make it all too easy for these bad actors to identify and connect to victims susceptible to the scams that our joint investigation found.”

While this investigation focused on scams, U.S. regulators should be alarmed by the number of Americans acquiring Ozempic and other weight-loss drugs without a prescription. A research survey conducted in conjunction with the investigation found that nearly half of Americans who acknowledged using these drugs acquired them without a prescription, either online or from a friend, family member, or colleague.

TikTok is just the latest social media platform to be slow in addressing the risks of prescription drugs – whether real or as a lure for a scam. Google paid $500 million to settle claims it helped illicit actors illegally market drugs in the United States. Digital Citizens and the Coalition for a Safer Web have uncovered numerous instances of drugs being illicitly marketed or sold on YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram.

However, given its Chinese ownership, TikTok has faced unique scrutiny. President Biden, spurred by concerns about national security, recently signed legislation requiring ByteDance to divest of the platform or face a U.S. ban. Given its precarious position, it’s shocking that TikTok would allow scammers to operate so freely.

“Scams and other harmful activities happen right under the noses of large, publicly traded companies that operate the most influential social media platforms in the world,” added Digital Citizens’ Galvin. “Scamming Internet users shouldn’t be easy. But in this case, TikTok’s failure to oversee its platform has made it so.”

“As this report demonstrates, TikTok’s conduct poses a threat to the health and welfare of the public. TikTok is an unregulated marketplace where illegal drugs are peddled – either to be sold or used as a lure to scam users. Americans deserve better,” said Ambassador Marc Ginsberg, President of the Coalition for a Safer Web. “As long as social media companies are unregulated and left to run wild, consumers will be exposed to the criminal web marketplace. Policymakers – from Congress that makes the law to regulators that oversee conduct – must take online illegal marketplaces seriously to protect the American people.”

To read the full report, visit Reports.DigitalCitizensAlliance.org/ozempic-scams-tiktok. DCA and CSW shared the channels in the report with TikTok last week. Soon after sharing the information, the accounts appeared to be deactivated. However, the research team is tracking more than a dozen other channels offering weight loss drugs that are still working as of the publication of this release. Both organizations will monitor weight loss drug offers on TikTok to see if the platform addressed the wider problem or simply the accounts noted in the research.


About Digital Citizens Alliance
The Digital Citizens Alliance is a nonprofit, 501(c)(6) organization that is a consumer-oriented coalition focused on educating the public and policymakers on the threats that consumers face on the Internet. Digital Citizens wants to create a dialogue on the importance for Internet stakeholders— individuals, government, and industry—to make the Web a safer place. Based in Washington, DC, the Digital Citizens Alliance counts among its supporters: private citizens, the health, pharmaceutical, and creative industries as well as online safety experts and other communities focused on Internet safety. Visit us at DigitalCitizensAlliance.org.

About The Coalition for a Safer Web
The Coalition for a Safer Web is a non-partisan, 501(c)(3) demanding accountability from social media platforms, government, and corporations, and bringing together a unified voice to foster a safer digital sphere. By countering the spread of dangerous rhetoric, The Coalition For A Safer Web strives to create real-world change and address the impact of online extremism on society. To learn more about the Coalition visit the website at coaltionsw.org.