WhatsApp is easily one of the most popular instant messaging apps. Studies estimate that as of 2022, WhatsApp has more than 2 billion users who send an average of 100 billion messages daily. The app is also very popular because there are versions for most of the major operating systems in everyday use, including iOS, Android, Windows, and Mac.
The app’s popularity and large number of users are advantageous to the average person. Anyone can pick up a smart device to send instant messages, media, and live location to stay better connected with friends, family, and loved ones. However, as with anything so popular, there is the ever-present risk of exploitation and scams.
A WhatsApp scam is a type of fraud where cybercriminals try to get sensitive information or money from an unsuspecting victim by pretending to be a close friend, family member, or acquaintance. While there are several different types of WhatsApp scams, they all involve criminals using a ruse to obtain information they usually would not be able to access.
Falling for a WhatsApp scam might not be as difficult as you think. Some of these criminals are very experienced and are almost always looking for new ways to scam potential victims who seem to be getting more skilled at avoiding scams. To avoid WhatsApp scams, it’s important to first understand the most common types and how they are used to deceive people. Methods commonly used by scammers include the following:
The WhatsApp Hijack involves taking control of someone’s account and using it to scam another person. The cybercriminal usually finds a way to access the first victim’s phone number and then uses the number to install WhatsApp on a different device. With WhatsApp now installed, the fraudster contacts a second victim who is an acquaintance of the first and spins a story about mistakenly sending a verification code to the second victim’s account. The unsuspecting victim releases the code and loses control of their account.
The impersonation scam is similar to the WhatsApp hijack because the fraudster pretends to be someone else in both cases. The difference here is that instead of hijacking an acquaintance’s WhatsApp, the scammer uses their account or that of a third party to message a victim. They may also find a photo of the person they are impersonating from Instagram or other social media platforms to use as their display picture. After a brief introduction, the scammer asks for money or other sensitive information.
This hack capitalizes on the average person’s use of a simple default PIN like 1111 or 1234. An attacker perpetrating the voicemail hack installs WhatsApp on their device and registers using the victim’s phone number. WhatsApp then sends a verification code to the actual owner as part of its security process. However, the fraudster usually chooses late hours, usually after midnight, when the victim is likely asleep or otherwise inactive and cannot detect the attack.
After multiple attempts, the fraudster prompts WhatsApp to send the verification code via a voice call, claiming they did not receive a text. Since the victim is inactive, the call goes to voicemail. The hacker then remotely accesses the victim’s voicemail, especially if they use a weak PIN. After obtaining the verification code, the fraudster permanently locks the victim out by setting up 2-factor authentication.
Scammers also use malicious links to target victims. This method is simple and may not require impersonation. The victim simply receives a message containing details of a survey or an offer with a promised freebie for participation. Unsuspecting victims may then fill the form with sensitive information or unknowingly install a bug or virus by simply clicking the link.
There are several things to look out for when trying to recognize WhatsApp scams. Although you generally should be wary of anything that doesn’t seem right, here are a few critical signs:
Understanding and recognizing the different types of WhatsApp scams is the first step to avoiding them. However, there are also several tips you can follow that will significantly reduce the chance that you’ll fall victim to a WhatsApp scammer. If you use WhatsApp, consider the following tips: