WhatsApp scam: messages from your 'friends' that try to take over your phone

WhatsApp scam: messages from your 'friends' that try to take over your phone

A new scam targets the WhatsApp messenger app, used by more than a billion people. Here's how it works, and how to protect yourself.

Anna Jordan

Rights, Scams and Politics

Anna Jordan
Updated on 2 February 2016

A dangerous new scam is circulating around mobile messenger WhatsApp.

Fraudsters are targeting users with messages containing genuine-looking links integrated into a current conversation loop. The message might say something like ‘Look’ alongside the harmful link. What makes the scam so effective is that as the link appears on an existing conversation thread, it appears to have come from your friend, making it appear more genuine.

Users unwittingly click the link which takes them to a fake website, usually offering discount vouchers for big name brands. 

Users are then asked to register details including name, email, mobile phone number and address, making it easy for scammers to steal this information. The message itself instructs the user to forward the message to 10 contacts so that they can redeem the offer, like a £5 discount from Starbucks or Zara.

But far from money off a coffee and a muffin, the user is left with malware on their phone, which can then be used to steal their identity or access their banking details.

A global target

WhatsApp has almost one billion users worldwide, making it a major target for international scammers. The mobile messenger has also been used to spread fake invitations to calls and fake voicemail services which contain malware.

How to avoid these scams

Be wary of any messages you receive if:

  • The message content  includes instructions to forward the message
  • The message claims you can avoid punishment, like account suspension, if you forward the message
  • The message content includes a reward of gift.

Really, the best advice is to be extra careful about ever clicking on a link sent to you, whether it's in an email or via a messenger app like WhatsApp. If it appears to come from a friend or someone you trust, contact them separately through a different medium if possible, to ensure that it was really them that sent the link.

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