The day after Thanksgiving, Texas will host almost 100 high school football third-round playoff games across the state, featuring some of the best teams in the nation in major stadiums with unrivaled amateur talent.
This also includes a stomach full of turkey and side dishes, cold weather, and leftovers waiting in the fridge. Hey, who could blame you if you preferred a day on the couch in sweatpants to a cold football stadium?
The good news is that it’s 2022 and most, if not all, Texas high school football games are being streamed online and easily accessible to fans who want to take part in the game from the comfort of their homes.
The bad news: You open Twitter, search for the right game, and stumble across hundreds of different accounts posting what you think are legitimate streaming options.
But it’s not.
Since 2020, Twitter has seen an increase in spam accounts masquerading as trusted news sources and verified broadcast channels that promote fraudulent links to live Texas high school football games in an attempt to collect personal and credit card information, mostly.
These scammers who prey on both fans and family members might at first glance be mistaken for the Collegiate Interscholastic League or the National High School Sports Federation. And as holidays and playoff games approach, sometimes hundreds of miles away from any school’s campus, the interest in live streaming only grows. The same applies to spam accounts.
Those whose social media feeds are flooded with these accounts every week are now working to educate those who can be fooled.
“They’re everywhere,” said Prosper ISD athletic director Valerie Little.
– Looks legit, right?
texas Live, Dave Campbell Texas Football owned by the broadcast network, is one of the most copied brands in the state. These scam accounts – such as @texanlive4, a deviation from the legitimate @Texan_Live – can sometimes go to great lengths to scam a potential subscriber. Each tweet includes custom graphics for the game it’s promoting and tags specific players, teams, and school districts.
One post from @texanlive4 advertised a game between Decani and Cy Falls. The link, which reads linktree.com/texanlive, directs those who click to a separate Texan Live-branded webpage, although this is not the same webpage as the legitimate Texan Live landing page.
The tweet tagged three Decani players and was shared by the high school itself. Another from the same account with a link to a game between New Caney and Tomball with similar tags and graphics was shared by the football team Tomball.
Five of this account’s last 12 tweets as of Wednesday were posted by either a high school, a team account, a coach, or an athlete.
“They’re tricky,” said Matt Stepp, the school’s football insider. Dave Campbell Texas Football who can often be seen on any Friday spamming Twitter accounts. “And if you’re not careful, they’ll catch you.” Coaches and players are often – and even some official school accounts – overlooked and scammed.”
Stepp noticed a spike in spam accounts after UIL relaxed its Friday night 2020 live streaming policy. Section 868(c) of the UIL Bylaws and Contest Rules previously prohibited live television broadcasts, but the UIL has lifted the ban to help comply with COVID-19. policy, and in 2021 ruled that broadcasts could continue.
“Before 2020, everyone knew that if someone posted an online link to a Friday game, it was spam,” Stepp said. “This is not valid; there was a rule against it. Once UIL opened that door, I think they unknowingly opened a Pandora’s box for scammers and scammers.”
What makes Texas high school football such a desirable market for scammers? First, consider the number of teams in the state. There are 1253 UIL teams alone, and then you add TAPPS, SPC or other private schools.
A large number of commands equals a large number of games, and a large number of games corresponds to increased opportunities to scam someone with a questionable connection. Add interest in sports—both locally and nationally—and the opportunities bloom.
Izzat Alsmadi, head of computer and cybersecurity at Texas A&M-San Antonio, said some accounts may be registered outside the United States, while others may be managed by real people locally. According to Alsmadi, parents, fans and other family members can be prime targets.
“They don’t know and don’t check the information,” Alsmadi said. “They distribute before they check the information, and that’s the scariest thing.”
Other versions may not be as convincing.
One with the NFHS logo as a profile picture and “my little girl” as a username contains more than 1,700 tweets promoting fraudulent links to live football games across the state and country. Each tweet contains the same graphic with the MaxPreps logo and a photo of football player Austin Lake Travis.
Another, called the “Dallas Network”, was used Dallas Morning News a logo as a profile picture and a custom image to promote the WT White vs. First Round playoff game. Frisco Reedy. News does not broadcast live football matches, and even if it did, at least the “n” in “network” would be capitalized. Imitation of similar accounts Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express News, NBC, CBS and even ESPN also went around in circles.
“It’s amazing to me what people would do to collect personal data,” said Todd Lamb, communications director for Dallas ISD athletics. “Some of them you would call professionals. They know the accounts that are out there, be it UIL, Dave Campbell, Texan Live, or the TXHSFB hashtag game. You see them change the spelling or get one character wrong and it looks like it’s legal, right?”
Phishing accounts are used not only in football. Duncanville and Lake Highlands News’ The first and second-place 6A basketball teams played Saturday at The Match Up, a tournament held at Prosper Rock Hill. A simple Twitter search of “Duncanville” and “Lake Highlands” turned up over 20 different spam accounts (all in the same format) that promoted a phishing link masquerading as a live stream.
One of them, called “Townhs 889187”, which lists his profession as “marine”, used the NFHS logo as his avatar and News’ SportsDayHS logo as a banner. It contains over 37,000 tweets, the most recent of which are promotions for high school football, basketball, soccer, and volleyball, all over the country.
Another account that promoted the Duncanville/Lake Highlands thread called “Babuxxtips1” has almost 30,000 tweets and posted over 100 phishing links on November 19 alone.
“Twitter is like the Wild West,” Stepp said. “You kind of play Whac-A-Mole. I’m trying to report accounts and block them, but more are showing up.”
“We don’t have a magic formula”
So of course, a few seconds of checking will quickly reveal the obvious flaws and red flags built into these accounts. Really, a marine running high school football streams? But athletes who are sometimes tagged in these tweets — who see a familiar logo, and sometimes even their team account tagged in the body of the message — may be unable to distinguish between a spam account and a genuine one.
That’s where the school district’s intervention and education comes in, Little says.
“Many will see [Prosper ISD Athletics] labeled and assumed to be safe,” Little said. “We don’t have a magic formula or a magic solution. We’re just trying to educate them. Slow down; make sure you know what you are doing; don’t just retweet everything.”
This is the biggest problem. As Little said, there is no perfect mitigation solution other than social media literacy. Lamb posts verified links from Dallas ISD social media accounts and shows coaches how to report and block spam accounts. Stepp believes that registered accounts (and subsequently suspended accounts) will cause alarm for those who create them. Alsmadi said that while these steps are important, the responsibility for enforcing stricter security policies lies with the social networks themselves.
To complicate matters further, the continued rise in spam accounts targeting Texas high school football fans coincides with ongoing Twitter turmoil. Since Elon Musk acquired Twitter in October, more than 1,000 employees, including cybersecurity director Lea Kissner, have either quit or been fired.
“This thing is going to grow,” Alsmadi said.
Ben Peck, KAGS News reporter in Bryan, published last week that Twitter promoted a fraudulent UIL account (@uiltexas4) that posted spammy links. This spam account has since been banned, and UIL’s legitimate Twitter account, verified by over 100,000 followers, posted a link to over 100 UIL-approved streams for the Regional Football Playoffs. the day before, most of which aired via NFHS, Texan Live, or the school’s own broadcast network.
UIL in email News, reported that schools communicate directly from their social media accounts to promote verified streams, and that fans, players, and families should only use links provided by their respective district and not search on Twitter or Google to find them.
“It’s easy to get caught,” Lamb said. “But we have an obligation to help our children and their families protect their personal information.”
On Twitter: @McFarland_Shawn
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