The day after Thanksgiving in Texas, nearly 100 third-round high school football playoff games will be played across the state, pitted against some of the best teams in the country in the biggest stadiums with unmatched amateur talent.
That includes a stomach full of turkey and side dishes, cold weather, and leftovers waiting in the fridge. Hey, who could blame you if you’d rather spend a day on the couch in sweatpants than hike to a cold soccer stadium?
The good news: It’s 2022, and most – if not all – Texas High School football games are being streamed online and easily accessible for fans ready to catch the action without leaving home.
The bad news: you open Twitter, search for a game you want, and stumble upon hundreds of different accounts posting supposedly legitimate streaming options.
Unless they aren’t.
Since 2020, Twitter has seen a surge in spam accounts posing as trusted news sources and verified broadcasters promoting deceptive links to Texas High School Football live streams in order to collect largely personal and credit card information.
Preying on both fans and family members, these scammers may at first glance be confused with the University Interscholastic League or the National Federation of High School Sports. And with the holidays approaching — and with those playoff games sometimes taking place hundreds of miles from a given school’s campus — interest in live streaming is only increasing. This also applies to exposure to spam accounts.
Those who find their social media feeds being flooded with these accounts on a weekly basis are now working to educate the people being fooled.
“They are everywhere,” said Prosper ISD sports director Valerie Little.
“It looks real, doesn’t it?”
Texan Live, a Dave Campbell’s Texas Football is one of the most copied trademarks in the state. These fraudulent accounts – like @texanlive4, a variation of the legitimate @Texan_Live – can sometimes go to great lengths to fool a potential subscriber. Each tweet includes a custom graphic for the game being promoted and tags specific players, teams, and school districts.
A post from @texanlive4 promoted a territory round match between Dekaney and Cy Falls. The link – which reads linktree.com/texanlive – redirects those who click it to a separate webpage with Texan Live branding, although it is not the same webpage as a legitimate Texan Live landing page.
The tweet tagged three Dekaney players and was shared by the high school itself. Another from the same account with a link to an area round match between New Caney and Tomball with similar tags and graphics was shared by Tomball’s football team.
Five of this account’s last 12 tweets on Wednesday were shared by either a high school, team account, coach, or athlete.
“They’re sneaky,” said Matt Stepp, a high school football insider for Dave Campbell’s Texas Football who can often be seen calling spam accounts on Twitter every Friday. “And if you’re not careful, they’ll get you. Coaches and players – and even some official school accounts – are often not paying attention and are tricked.”
Stepp noticed a spike in spam accounts after the UIL relaxed its guidelines on Friday night live streams in 2020. Section 868(c) of the UIL Constitution and Competition Rules previously banned live broadcasts, but UIL lifted the ban to help comply with COVID-19 guidelines and ruled in 2021 that broadcasts could continue.
“Everybody knew before 2020 that if someone posted an online link to a Friday game, it was spam,” Stepp said. “It wasn’t valid; There was a rule against it. When the UIL opened that door, I think they unknowingly opened a Pandora’s box for scammers and scammers.”
What made Texas high school football such a desirable market for cheaters? First, look at the number of teams in the state. There are 1,253 UIL teams alone, and then add TAPPS, SPC or other private schools.
A high number of teams equals a high number of games, and a high number of games means increased opportunities to fool someone with a shady connection. Add in an interest in the sport – both local and national – and the opportunities blossom.
Izzat Alsmadi, department head of Texas A&M-San Antonio’s computer and cybersecurity program, said some accounts may originate from outside the United States, while others may be operated locally by real people. Parents, fans and other family members, Alsmadi said, can become prime targets.
“They don’t know and they’re not looking for information,” Alsmadi said. “They spread before they verify information, and that’s the scary part.”
Other reports may not be as convincing.
One with the NFHS logo as her profile picture and “my little girl” as her username has more than 1,700 tweets promoting deceptive live stream links for soccer games across the state and country. Each tweet contains the same graphic with a MaxPreps logo and a photo of an Austin Lake Travis football player.
Another one called “Dallas Network” is used The Dallas Morning News Logo profile picture and customized graphic to promote a WT White vs. Frisco Reedy first round playoff game. The news It doesn’t broadcast football matches live, and even if it did, it would at least capitalize the “n” in “network”. Mimic similar accounts The Houston Chronicle, The San Antonio Express News, NBC, CBS, and even ESPN have also made the rounds.
“I find it amazing what individuals are doing to collect personally identifiable information,” said Todd Lamb, Dallas ISD athletics communications director. “Some are what you would call professionals. You know the accounts that are out there, whether it’s the UIL or Dave Campbell’s or Texan Live or the TXHSFB hashtag. You see them tweak a spelling or it’s a character wrong and it looks like it’s legit, right?
The phishing accounts aren’t just reserved for football. Duncanville and Lake Highlands — The news’ 1st and 2nd Place 6A Basketball Teams – Played Saturday at The Match Up, a tournament hosted at Prosper Rock Hill. A simple Twitter search for “Duncanville” and “Lake Highlands” turned up more than 20 different spam accounts (all in the same format) promoting a phishing link disguised as a live stream.
One titled “Townhs 889187” listing his occupation as “Marine” used the NFHS logo as the avatar and The news’ SportsDayHS logo as banner photo. It has more than 37,000 tweets, the latest promotions for live streams of high school football, basketball, soccer and volleyball across the country.
Another account promoting a Duncanville/Lake Highlands stream called “Babuxxtips1” posted nearly 30,000 tweets and more than 100 phishing links on November 19 alone.
“Twitter is kind of a wild west,” Stepp said. “You’re kinda playing whac-a-mole. I’m trying to report and block the accounts, but more just keep popping up.”
“We have no magic formula”
Sure, a few seconds of inspection quickly reveals the obvious errors and red flags built into these accounts. Really, a Marine driving high school football streams? But the athletes who are sometimes tagged in those tweets — who see a familiar logo and sometimes even their team’s account in the body of the post — may not be able to tell the differences between a spam account and a legitimate account.
That, Little said, is where school district intervention and education comes into play.
“A lot of them will see it [Prosper ISD Athletics] marked and assume it’s safe,” Little said. “We don’t have a magic formula or magic solution for this. We’re just trying to educate them. Slower; make sure you know what you’re doing; Don’t just retweet everything.”
Therein lies the biggest problem. As Little said, there is no perfect mitigation solution beyond social media literacy. Lamb posts verified links from Dallas ISD’s social media accounts and has shown coaches how to report and block spam accounts. Stepp believes that reported accounts (and subsequent banned accounts) will dismay those who create them. Alsmadi said that while these steps are important, the responsibility rests with the social networks themselves to comply with stricter security guidelines.
To make matters worse, the continued rise in spam accounts targeting Texas high school football fans coincides with ongoing turmoil at Twitter. Since Elon Musk took over Twitter in October, more than 1,000 employees – including Chief Cybersecurity Officer Lea Kissner – have either been terminated or fired.
“This thing is going to grow,” Alsmadi said.
Ben Peck, a reporter for KAGS News in Bryan, posted last week that Twitter had promoted a fraudulent UIL account (@uiltexas4) that had posted spam links. That spam account has since been suspended, and UIL’s legitimate Twitter account – verified with 100,000+ followers – had posted a link to over 100 UIL approved streams for the soccer playoff division round the day before, most of which were broadcast over the NFHS, Texan Live, or a school’s own broadcast network.
The UIL, in an email to The news, advised that schools communicate directly through their social media accounts to promote verified streams and that fans, players and families should only use links provided by their respective district rather than searching on Twitter or Google to to find one.
“It’s easy to fall for,” Lamb said. “But we owe it to our children and their families to help them protect their personal information.”
On twitter: @McFarland_Shawn
For more high school sports coverage from The Dallas Morning News, click here.
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