Top WhatsApp scams to avoid in 2022

It’s getting tougher to tell what’s genuine and what’s a scam as fraudsters up their game. Here are the latest WhatsApp scams you need to know about

Businessman using smartphone with unsafe cloud computing
(Image credit: Getty images)

WhatsApp scams are increasingly common. Reports have rocketed by more than 2,000% in the last 12 months, according to recent analysis by Lloyds Bank. 

The most common scam has been dubbed the ‘Mum and Dad Scam’ and involves con-artists convincing parents their children are in trouble and need a cash transfer.

Action Fraud (opens in new tab) also reported that in July, WhatsApp scams where fraudsters are pretending to be a family member or friend were reported 1,235 times from February 3 to June 21, costing WhatsApp users £1.5 million in total. 

Hundreds of people have taken to social media claiming they’ve been targeted, including the mother of BBC sport commentator Jacqui Oatley.

The scam typically begins with a ‘Hi mum’ text followed by another message explaining why your child has changed their phone number.

After exchanging a few more messages to build up a convincing rapport, they claim they urgently need money. But it’s all a lie. 

More recently, there has also been a twist on this ‘Mum and Dad Scam’ with fraudsters telling the victim to tell a family or friend to transfer the money, as a way to cover their own backs. 

Tweeting about her mum’s experience, Oatley said the scam was “incredibly believable” and fortunately “their spelling and grammar were terrible it alerted my mum!”

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Money Edit reader Christine similarly almost lost £1,000 to a WhatsApp scammer pretending to be her daughter.

Clicking on any scam link runs the risk of exposure to phishing scams, spam and malicious websites that allow scammers to potentially steal personal information, like your bank details.

It’s a distressing experience that leaves victims feeling embarrassed and devastated. Yet, personal stories of it happening to people recounted on social media demonstrate anyone can be vulnerable to being tricked. 

‘Hi Mum’ and ‘Hi Dad’ scams could be a particular problem for parents with children aged 18 to 25 who are starting or returning to university this Autumn, leaving home or going travelling. 

WhatsApp has two billion users - meaning fraudsters just need to scam a tiny fraction of people to make money.

Chris Ainsley, head of fraud risk management at Santander UK explains that scams like these appear on your mobile phone texts too.

Common WhatsApp scam tricks

  1. Persuade you to hand over personal details such as your name and address that can be used in identity theft
  2. Install malware - or malicious software - on your phone which spies on your activity and collects information that can be used in identity theft or lock you out of your phone 
  3. Charge you for services that should be free.
  4. Scammers may pretend to be a family member and request money

The most common WhatsApp scams to look out for

1. Impersonation fraud

Sometimes dubbed the ‘Mum and Dad Scam’, this is where scammers use WhatsApp to impersonate family members in difficulty and in particular need of money. This type of scam has evolved from fraudsters impersonating a bank, police or HMRC.

It starts with a message from an unknown number, claiming to be a loved one who has just lost their phone and got a replacement. It gives them a reason for having a different number, and means they can just use a generic term like 'Mum' and 'Dad', - though sometimes 'Sis' or 'Bro'.

The story they tell varies, but centres on a claim that because they have a new phone they don't have access to their internet or mobile banking app and therefore need urgent help to pay a bill. Any attempts to call to verify their identity is often fobbed off with talk that there is a problem with the microphone.

Victims then transfer money to an account thinking they are really helping out their loved one. On average victims lose £1,950 this way.

There is also often a middle man in these types of scams, where WhatsApp users are told by the fraudster to tell a family member or friend to transfer the money into the given account, and then the fraudster moves this into their own account. 

In this case the victim is usually given account details which are controlled by the fraudster

This precaution fraudsters take is to trick the bank into thinking the transfer is ‘low risk’, so it is less likely to be flagged at the time. 

More importantly, if you wanted to trace back the payment it would be more difficult, as the money has gone through a number of accounts and once the money has been transferred to the fraudster, they cut all contact with the victim.

Money Edit reader Christine who almost lost £1,000 to this type of fraud caught out the scammer pretending to be her daughter by quickly asking her daughter’s middle name. 

People have taken to social media to suggest personal safety measures:

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Some have even tweeted the jokes they have played on their scammers: 

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2. WhatsApp verification message trick  

If you receive a text message with a six-digit WhatsApp code that you were not expecting, you may be a target of the scam.

It’s the kind of code you would need if you were setting up a new account, or logging in to your existing account on a new device.

If you have not initiated this request, you should see this message as a red flag. It could be a fraudster trying to log in to your account.

In the next step of the scam, you receive a WhatsApp message from a friend asking for the six-digit code. Horrible truth: it appears to come from a genuine friend because your account has already been hijacked.

If you don’t spot it is a scam you will end up sending the access code for your own account to the scammer. The hijacker can go on to message your friends, family and contacts, and pretend to be you. They can access your group chats where they can see private information. They can try the six-digit code trick with new victims. They may even pretend you're having a crisis and ask your contacts for money.

3. FREE FLIGHTS

Another scam circulating on Whatsapp is the free flights scam. People are receiving messages claiming Emirates are giving away free flights with a link to claim the tickets. The scam message says ‘Emirates Airlines 2022 Anniversary giveaway’ and another one states ‘‘Emirates Airlines 2022 Vacation giveaway’.

The scam offers ‘5,000 free round-trip flights to Europe, Asia or Domestic’. As tempting as it might be to bag a free getaway, be warned that Emirates is doing no such thing, as it has confirmed to Which? (opens in new tab)

Emirates clarifies that any competitions it runs are posted on its verified social media channels or its official website: Emirates.com.

Victims of the scam are taking to Twitter:

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It is easy to fall for the scam when you see the Emirates logo on the message. If you ever receive this message and are unsure whether it’s a scam or not, you can look at the URL. On this specific scam, the URL looks dodgy - It doesn't include the brand name ‘Emirates’ which means it most likely isn’t taking you to the Emirates website, and is instead a combination of random words and numbers as you can see in the image below.

A screenshot of the fraudulent Emirates WhatsApp scam text

(Image credit: Future)

4. WhatsApp Gold 

WhatsApp Gold is a scam claiming to be a special version of the messaging app used by celebrities and rich people with access to hidden features. It first appeared in 2016 and has a record of reappearing every few years - its latest appearance was in 2020.

The covid-19 pandemic meant we were more reliant on apps like WhatsApp and we still are, so any chance of an upgrade seems like a novelty. However, WhatsApp Gold does not exist, so be sure to ignore any messages like this. 

According to those who have been targeted, a message will drop into your inbox saying that a special version of WhatsApp is available.

The message reads along the lines of: ‘Hey Finally Secret WhatsApp golden version has been leaked, This version is used only by big celebrities. Now we can use it too.’

A link will invite you to download WhatsApp Gold. However, in reality, these links can be riddled with malware that lock you out of your phone or steal valuable personal information.

Social media users have recounted how the WhatsApp Gold hoax appeared with a video called the ‘Dance of the Pope’ in an effort to persuade victims to open the link

Yes, WhatsApp does introduce new features all the time. But the popular app is very vocal about what it’s pushing out and when. Also watch out for the tell-tale sign of a scam: the spelling and grammar mistakes.

Any updates will occur through updating the app itself – and not through clicking a link embedded in a message.

5. Supermarket WhatsApp scams 

With shoppers trying to bag any discount they can right now, this is one to look out for. 

Scammers send out fake Tesco, Asda and Marks & Spencer vouchers on WhatsApp. The messages look like they have been sent by a thoughtful friend and designed to trick you into clicking on the link to claim the voucher.

One such example is: "Hi, ASDA is giving away £250 Free Voucher to celebrate 68th anniversary, go here to get it. Enjoy and thanks me later !"

But the supermarket isn't giving out any £250 vouchers at all. There are two classic signs that this is a scam: the spelling and grammar mistakes and, if you type in the URL mentioned in the offer, you will see that the page does not exist on Asda.

How can you protect yourself from Whatsapp scams? 

  1. Never hand over your security codes, a password or a pin to anyone - not even friends or family 
  2. Beware of messages asking for money. Call your friend or family to check if in any doubt. If you can't speak to them ask them something personal like what their middle name is or what they call their dog. If you don't independently verify the person's identity before making a payment you may not be due a refund under the Contingent Reimbursement Model Code (opens in new tab).
  3. Set up the two-step verification option for extra security 
  4. Beware of a sense of urgency. When you sense that there is an urgency or time limit to respond or you will be charged a fine, take that as a red flag.
  5. Scam messages often have spelling or grammatical mistakes, so keep a lookout for these.
  6. The Take Five to Stop Fraud (opens in new tab) campaign advice is to pause and think in a timely manner before giving out any money or personal information, especially when you receive messages randomly
  7. Read WhatsApp’s guide (opens in new tab) on its website for further reassurance. 

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Katie is staff writer at The Money Edit. She was the former staff writer at The Times and The Sunday Times. Her experience includes writing about personal finance, culture, travel and interviews celebrities.  Her investigative work on financial abuse resulted in a number of mortgage prisoners being set free - and a nomination for the Best Personal Finance Story of the Year in the Headlinemoney awards 2021.

With contributions from