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How Discord plans to handle the latest wave of scams

The company is ‘working to make it harder for attacks like this to happen’

Discord’s rebrand key art, which shows colorful characters hanging out together on a blue background Image: Discord
Ana Diaz (she/her) is a culture writer at Polygon, covering internet culture, fandom, and video games. Her work has previously appeared at NPR, Wired, and The Verge.

If you’re active on the popular messaging app Discord, you might have noticed a troubling trend. Over the past few months, Discord scams have increased not just in number, but in savviness, as scammers attempt to take advantage of people who might be worried about information or photos of them leaking online. Polygon reached out to the company to ask how it plans to address the scams.

Discord is a messaging app that largely appeals to a younger audience because its features cater to people who play video games and tabletop RPGs. As a result, a prevailing number of scams appear to target the possible anxieties of that younger audience. The newer scams look something like this.

A person will get a message, sometimes from an account that appears to be a mutual friend. This “friend” will contact the person and accuse them of sending private photos. The message is typically accompanied by a link inviting the person to a Discord server, where they are asked to “verify” their account by scanning a QR code. If they scan the code, the scammer will gain access to their account.

These scams can be difficult to identify because the language doesn’t look out of place for the platform, and it touches on realistic anxieties. “Heyy idk what happened or if its really you but it was your name and the same avatar and you sent a girl — stuff like what the fuck,” reads a screenshot of a Discord scam one Twitter user shared. (According to a 2013 report from MTV and the Associated Press, up to 11% of young people between the ages of 14 and 24 have shared naked pictures of themselves.) This particular scam included an invitation to a server called “DISCORD SHAMING.” After the user joined the server, a bot prompted them to scan a QR code.

While some people criticize those who fall victim to it, even after Discord warns people about QR code-related scams, the problem persists. Twitter is absolutely littered with people documenting the ones they’ve encountered, and one YouTuber made a video of the scam, with commenters mentioning they’ve fallen victim to it. Discord told Polygon via email that the company is working on additional safety features to prevent unauthorized logins, as in the case of this particular scam.

“Discord takes the safety of all users and communities very seriously. We are always working to make it harder for attacks like this to happen and continue to invest in education and tools to help protect our users,” a representative said.

Virtual scams are nothing new. Anyone plagued with robocalls or random emails from fake people who “need your help” know this. Still, scams across all social media platforms sharply increased in 2021, according to the Federal Trade Commission, as life shifted toward a higher reliance on digital communications during the pandemic, and cryptocurrency-related scams sprung up. Discord is part of a larger picture of uptick in fraud. However, these particular scams get dicey as they affect a young audience. As online platforms like Roblox grow, so do their associated online communities, like those on Discord, and it requires young people to become increasingly judicious with how they engage with content online.

Discord has advice for avoiding scams. Some of it is pretty basic: Don’t accept friend invites from people you don’t know. Don’t accept server invitations from people you don’t know and don’t click a link to a server you don’t know. Don’t ever scan a QR code from someone you don’t know, since it can give a malicious actor access to your account and personal information tied to it. You can read it all here, and you should, because odds are you’ve bumped into a scam of some sort. So stay safe and keep others safe out there!

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