EVANSVILLE, Ind. — Matt Weber was just trying to be helpful.
The Memorial High School boys basketball team was set to open its season at Terre Haute South. Instead of making a two-hour trip, many fans hoped to simply watch the game from home.
That’s when the Memorial athletics director decided to search Twitter. He found a link that appeared to be for a stream of the contest and retweeted it on the Tigers’ social media account.
He soon figured out he needed to delete it.
Like many others, Weber had fallen for a fake link. A scam that would’ve led to disappointment and possibly even a loss of money for parents and fans. It was a lesson learned.
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“I would tell people to make sure it comes from your school’s official account,” Weber said. “If it doesn’t, I wouldn’t trust it.”
Links to fake broadcast streams for Indiana High School Athletic Association sports have become common. Many of these sites post their scam addresses on school’s social media accounts, such as Twitter and Facebook.
While this isn’t necessarily a new tactic for scammers, it ramped up during the coronavirus pandemic. Teams had to limit attendance for safety measures, so that’s when many schools experimented with streaming games over the Internet.
“Scammers quickly found out that web streaming was more important than ever,” said Heath Shanahan, the IHSAA’s Director of Broadcasting. “If you go on Twitter right now and type in IHSAA, odds are that one of the first things you see will be one of those fake links.”
IHSAA livestream scams present a risk
What’s the risk of falling for these scams? At best, you might just deal with not being able to watch your team play. But some of the consequences can be worse.
The links can lead to sites that infect your computer with malware or viruses. Some also say they require a small fee to watch the stream, so they ask for credit card information, which they’ll steal.
“I know several people who put money into these accounts. It got them nothing,” said Boonville High School Athletics Director Kevin Davis. “If they can get one person from every school to buy, then they’re making big money. It is a problem.”
Almost every day, Davis says he has to block and report countless spam accounts on the Pioneers’ Twitter and Facebook pages. Often, these posts will include the team names and game time with a link attached.
Avoid clicking links from unofficial accounts
But Davis has cautioned fans against clicking on these. He says the only official streams for his school’s games will be tweeted from Boonville’s accounts. If it comes from anywhere else, fans need to avoid it.
“I always try to reply to them and put fake news or quote-tweet it so they’ll see it,” Davis said. “But even if you block them, it seems like they always come back with another account.”
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Shanahan says the IHSAA gets emails almost every day from school officials about questionable streaming links.
There’s a number of ways to determine whether a broadcast is fake. International domain addresses (.tz or .eu, for example), incorrect spelling or using a link-shortening approach (such as bit.ly) to hide the complete address are often red flags.
“They’re putting a lot of effort into these tweets and so it must be working. That’s the sad part,” Shanahan said. “If you see any of those, just be careful.”
But they’re not always easy to spot.
Scam sites using trademarked school, IHSAA logos
It’s becoming more common for these spam sites to use trademarked school and IHSAA logos. Some have even labeled themselves as “The Champions Network,” which is ihsaa.tv’s official streaming site with affiliated broadcasters.
“If people aren’t paying attention and all they see is the IHSAA or their school logo, they might hit the link right away,” Davis said. “Then they realize they have to pay and that’s when they get bit. It’s a never-ending battle.”
Contact Courier & Press sports reporter Hendrix Magley via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @TweetsOfHendrix.