#datingscams | The WhatsApp ‘Martinelli’ hoax is back – but is it cause for concern?

A long-running hoax that claims mobile phones are at risk from a mysterious ‘Martinelli’ virus has resurfaced.

But users of messaging apps have nothing to fear from the supposed threat.

A message, which claims that a video called ‘Martinelli’ will be sent to their phones over WhatsApp the following day and warns users not to download it, has been circulating since at least 2017.

In fact, the video does not exist, but many still forward on the message, believing it to be genuine and attempting to warn friends, family members and colleagues.

What is the ‘Martinelli video’?

In fact, it doesn’t exist. But users receive a message warning them that they will receive the video “from WhatsApp” within 24 hours. Although there are variations of the text, it generally warns that it will “hack your phone and nothing can fix it.”

It urges recipients not to download it and to warn others not to do so by forwarding the message on. It also warns not to click on a link to update the app to ‘WhatsApp Gold’.

The latest version doing the rounds also includes a warning about a video called “Dance of the Pope”.

“It is a virus that formats your mobile,” the message states. “Beware it is very dangerous. They announced it today on BBC radio. Fwd this message to as many as you can!”

WhatsApp does not send out videos to its users, but this has not stopped many being taken in.

Do videos ever arrive?

No, but by this time, many will have been taken in by the message and try to do the right thing by warning friends. Those who receive the message may forward it on again, particularly if they received the original message from someone they trust.

Like many successful hoaxes, it does have an element of truth to it. The promise of WhatsApp Gold – a supposedly premium WhatsApp service which would give people access to extras such as more emojis – has been used to trick people into downloading malware onto their phones and computers.

WhatsApp does not offer a ‘gold’ service. However, like the ‘Martinelli’ message, it is one of the internet’s most persistent hoaxes, with WhatsApp Gold scams dating back to 2016 and intermittently resurfacing.

A Dance of the Pope video also does not appear to exist, with the reference to the BBC, a respected news outlet, likely added to give the claims credibility they do not merit.

Will forwarding the message harm my phone?

No, simply forwarding the Martinelli message will not do anything to your phone. However, it may cause alarm and inconvenience to others who receive it.

“Given that there apparently isn’t any ‘martinelli’ video, WhatsApp users are safe from it,” Sophos, the cyber security firm, has said.

“All they have to do is inform senders that they’ve been taken in by a chain letter, tell them to please stop forwarding it, and of course, refrain from forwarding it themselves.”

Why has it resurfaced now?

No-one really knows. There has been some suggestion that it could be linked to the rise to prominence of the Brazilian footballer Gabriel Martinelli, an 18-year-old who plays for Arsenal in the English Premier League. The fact that he shared a name with the hoax is a coincidence, with the forward still a schoolboy when it first emerged.

What other scams are doing the rounds?

There have been a series of warnings recently about scams linked to the coronavirus pandemic, many of which have been circulating on WhatsApp and other online platforms.

These range from the just fake claims – for example that the virus can be cured by a mixture of garlic and boiling water – to those designed to steal money or infect devices with dangerous viruses.

For example in one case it was wrongly claimed that Netflix was giving out free subscriptions in an attempt to get users to click a malicious link. In others, sought-after items like face masks or hand sanitisers which are then never delivered.

The Dubai Financial Services Authority has issued a new warning that the current situation can increase financial institutions’ vulnerability to cyberattacks, phishing attempts and fraud, and urged heightened vigilance.

Updated: March 24, 2020 09:40 PM

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