By Katie Binns
Scammers are targeting WhatsApp users and hijacking their accounts. It’s a distressing experience that leaves victims feeling stupid, embarrassed and devastated. Yet, personal stories of it happening to people recounted on social media demonstrate anyone can be vulnerable to being tricked.
WhatsApp has two billion users - meaning fraudsters just need to scam a tiny fraction of users to make money.
Common Whatsapp scam tricks
- Persuade you to hand over personal details such as your name and address that can be used in identity theft
- 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
- Charge you for services that should be free.
- Scammers may pretend to be a family member and request money
The most common WhatsApp scams to look out for
1. Six-digit WhatsApp code you were not expecting
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.
2. 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.
As the coronavirus pandemic is having us lean on apps like WhatsApp more than ever before and leaves us open to the need for novelty it shouldn’t come as a surprise. But any messages you receive urging you to update to WhatsApp Gold should be immediately ignored.
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.
3. Supermarket WhatsApp scams
Scammers send out fake Tesco, Asda and Marks and 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.
The messages read: "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?
- Never hand over your security codes, a password or a pin to anyone - not even friends or family
- Beware of messages asking for money. Call your friend or family to check if in any doubt
- Set up the two-step verification option for extra security
- Read WhatsApp’s guide on its website for further reassurance.
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