WhatsApp Scam Alert: Be Careful With New Contacts

by | Mar 19, 2024

WhatsApp is a popular and free messaging app with over 2 billion monthly active users. That makes it the most popular mobile messenger app and the third most popular social network globally. As a result, it attracts a wide range of users. Between January 2021 and June 2023, one in four people reported losing money to scammers on social media. That amount of success has made WhatsApp scams increasingly common.

How WhatsApp Scams Are Being Done

WhatsApp scams often involve a person pretending to be someone you know or a representative from a well-known company. They commonly steal the name and profile picture of a real person to pretend to be them. From there, they typically use publicly available data about their target, such as a person’s name, address, phone number, potential family members, and more. If the target uses social media, the attacker can find even more details to make it seem like they’re familiar with them.

Next, scammers can easily create WhatsApp accounts with temporary phone numbers. Those numbers don’t always come from the same country as the person they’re pretending to be. They then use these newly created accounts to send scam messages to a wide range of targets. Some scams are individualized against specific users, especially against those who have valuable data or credit card information. 

More often, they’ll target large groups of people. As part of that, they may give an external phone number or provide a phishing link to steal private information. Doing so means that even if they’re banned, people may still reach out through other contact methods. Most scammers use a variety of tactics, making it difficult to predict how each one will behave.

After they pick a target, their approach depends on the scammer, though their goal is to always make money. They may have fake prizes, share investment opportunities, pretend to be a charity, say they’re a co-worker, or even offer to be a romantic partner. WhatsApp scammers will say or do anything to trick someone into giving what they want.

AI Is Being Used To Write Convincing Scam Messages

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is being used to create more realistic scam messages. This technology is trained with online conversations and can copy the way real people talk. That makes the fake messages seem more real and harder to spot. Additionally, AI can be used to write fictional situations to convince their targets further. It’s always a good habit to use established contact methods, whether contacting a coworker, bank, or family member.

End-To-End Encryption Makes Scams Harder To Detect

WhatsApp has end-to-end encryption, meaning only the people in a conversation can see what’s being said. While this type of security protects user privacy, it also presents challenges in detecting and preventing fraud. Since the messages are encrypted, the service cannot directly detect a WhatsApp scam. Instead, it relies on user reports to uncover scammers, which requires the target to notice it’s a scam in the first place.

How to Spot a WhatsApp Scam

Spotting a WhatsApp scam involves paying close attention to several key indicators that often signal deceptive intent. Here are some ways to spot them:

  • Unknown Contacts: Be careful when receiving messages from numbers you don’t recognize, especially if they claim to be a boss, family member, or a representative from a local business. If a message seems suspicious, do not respond, and get in touch through an alternate method.
  • Wrong Country Code: Every country has a different country code in the phone number. For the U.S., it’s +1. If the country code doesn’t match where your contact is from, they’re likely a scammer.
  • Unexpected Requests: Be careful with unexpected requests, especially for money or personal information. Scammers often rush their victims to reduce the chance of being caught.
  • Too Good to Be True Offers: If you receive messages offering free gifts, cash prizes, or other too-good-to-be-true deals, they may be a WhatsApp scam. These scams use offers to trick people into providing personal information.
  • Urgent or Threatening: Scammers often create a sense of urgency to pressure you into making hasty decisions. Be careful with messages that are rushing you into sending money.
  • Links and Attachments: Avoid clicking links or downloading attachments from unknown sources. They could lead to phishing websites or contain malware. Stolen login details can later be used to access accounts.
  • Verification Codes: Never share your WhatsApp verification code with others. Scammers may trick you into giving them this code to take over your account. Then, they will use your legitimate account to try to scam people on your contact list.
  • Grammar or Spelling Mistakes: While this is less common thanks to AI, some of the most apparent scams still use poor grammar and spelling. If the writing is sloppy and not normal for the person they claim to be, it may be a trick.

Awareness of these signs can greatly reduce the risk of falling victim to a WhatsApp scam. If you’re unsure if it’s a scam but still seems important enough to act on, find an alternate way to contact the real person outside of WhatsApp.

3 Examples of WhatsApp Scams (With Images)

Example 1: An Urgent Message From Your Boss

In the first example, someone using the name of your boss is sending an urgent message. The biggest red flag is that they’re asking the person to purchase a gift card with their own money. To put additional pressure on them, they’re also highlighting how important the client is, and that there would be consequences for not following.

The goal of this type of scam is misdirecting the target with urgency and threats, making them less likely to consider the this could be fake. Unless WhatsApp is specifically used in your workplace, your boss will never reach out in this way. And if they did, you would already have them added to your contact information.

Example 2: Old College Friend Asking for Money

For the second example, an old friend is reaching out for help with medical bills. This could be a name you recognize, or it might be someone you’ve never heard of. Either way, they’ll establish a few familiar personal facts, such as the name of the college and the wife that was married who also attended the same college.

This scam approach also tries to rely on distant memory. If they last saw each other 10-20+ years ago, it’s long enough that someone may second guess themselves in not remembering a name. Their goal here is to establish enough authenticity to seem real, while also setting up guilt (such as medical bills) in an attempt to get the target to overlook anything suspicious.

Example 3: Threatening Tax Auditor Requesting Payment

In the third example, the scammer is pretending to be a tax auditor. They mention a tax code and a specific dollar amount, along with using a tone designed to sound more official. They may also have other basic details about the target, but won’t access more sensitive information like social security number, banking information, etc.

Tax auditors, and any government official will never reach out through WhatsApp or any other type of social media. If there is a tax issue, notification will always come by mail. And when in doubt, always get in touch through official channels. Never use emails or phone numbers provided in WhatsApp messages in this type of situation, as they only connect to other scammers.

How to Protect Your Account From WhatsApp Scams

Taking a few extra measures can greatly improve the security of your WhatsApp account. Firstly, enabling multi-factor authentication (MFA) provides an additional security layer, such as a PIN, to log in. Keeping your app updated also ensures you have the latest security updates, which can better detect unauthorized access.

Additionally, being careful around new contacts can greatly reduce the chance of falling for a scam, especially if they’re impersonating someone you know. If you don’t recognize the phone number, finding an alternate way to get in touch can also help validate who they are.

Also, never give out your account information to others. Even if someone is who they claim to be, you can’t guarantee their device is as secure as yours. The more people who know your account login information, the more likely a scammer or hacker will try to access it. Regularly review WhatsApp sessions and never authorize a login attempt you don’t recognize. In the case of an account breach, periodically backing up your data to iCloud or Google Drive can help recover any lost conversations.

What To Do Next if You Get Scammed

If you fall victim to a scam on WhatsApp or any other platform, it’s critical to act quickly to reduce the damage done. Here’s what to do next:

  1. Change Your Passwords

Immediately change your WhatsApp password and the passwords of any other accounts that may have been impacted, especially if the same password was used across multiple sites or apps.

  1. Enable Two-Step Verification

If you haven’t already, enable two-step verification on your WhatsApp account and other important accounts. That adds an extra layer of security.

  1. Notify Your Contacts

Inform your contacts that you’ve been scammed to prevent the scam from spreading further. Scammers often impersonate victims to trick their contacts.

  1. Report to WhatsApp

Use the app’s reporting feature to inform WhatsApp about the scam. This can help the platform act against scammers and prevent others from being harmed.

  1. Contact Your Bank

If payment information or money was involved, contact your bank or credit card provider to report the fraud. They can help secure your accounts, investigate the transactions, and, depending on how the money was stolen, potentially return it.

  1. Monitor Your Accounts

Keep a close eye on your accounts and credit reports after a scam to spot any unusual activity. If they stole personal information, they may not act on it right away and could wait until your guard is down.

  1. Learn and Stay Educated

Reflect on how the scam happened and educate yourself and others about similar scams to prevent them from repeating. Many people don’t realize how common scams are and assume they could never be victims.

Remember, falling for a scam can happen to anyone. The key is to respond promptly by taking steps to secure your information and to prevent further damage. Make sure to stay aware and spread the word. Awareness is one of the most powerful tools against WhatsApp scams.

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