We take a look at some of the common scams and tricks virtual conmen try using the messaging service
WhatsApp has more than a billion users . To put it another way, one in six of the world’s population is using the messaging service. That’s a lot of people.
It also means it’s a honeytrap for scammers . You just need to con a tiny fraction of these users to make serious money.
Fraudsters using WhatsApp often try to persuade you to hand over details that can be used in identity theft , such as your name and address.
Other scams will try to install malware – malicious software – on your phone. This effectively spies on you and collects information that can be used for sinister purposes.
A third type of tricksters just start charging you for services that should be free.
So what should we be looking out for?
1. Asda WhatsApp scams
Fraudsters are sending out fake Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Asda vouchers on WhatsApp, Action Fraud has warned.
Messages look like they’ve been sent from an actual contact, but the recipient name is fake and designed to trick you into clicking on the URL to claim the alleged voucher.
The messages read: “Hello, ASDA is giving away £250 Free Voucher to celebrate 68th anniversary, go here to get it. Enjoy and thanks me later !.”
But the retailer isn’t giving out any £250 vouchers at all. The only semblance of truth is that, indeed, it is 68-years-old.
There are two tell-tale signs the scam is fake: the spelling and grammar mistakes and, if you manually type in the supposed url mentioned in the offer (http://www.asda.com/mycoupon), you will see that the page does not exist on Asda.
But Action Fraud warns if you click on the URL you are taken to a fake website designed to trick you into handing over personal information.
Worse, once you click fraudsters can also collect personal information from your device by installing cookies on your phone that track you, or add browser extensions that can be used to show you advertisements.
The scam uses remarkably similar wording to a string of Facebook scams that offered people free flights and another for supermarket vouchers .
2. The voicemail
You’ve been left a voicemail. But what is it? You just need to press the helpfully large ‘Listen’ button to hear the message.
But rather than revealing a mystery caller, the button leads you to a dodgy website that tries to install malware on your phone.
The website Hoax Slayer says : “Be wary of any email that claims that you have a voice message from WhatsApp and should click a button to hear it.
“Genuine WhatsApp voice messages will be delivered via the app itself, not via a separate email.”
3. WhatsApp Gold
WhatsApp users are being tricked by fraudsters into downloading a fake version of WhatsApp which infects Android devices with malware.
The “secret” messages sent to peoples inboxes claim you have an exclusive chance to download “WhatsApp Gold”.
The scam messages claim to offer enhanced features used by celebrities. Victims are urged to sign up via a link provided. WhatsApp say that they will never send users a message asking them to upgrade or download another app.
After clicking on the link you will be redirected to a fake page and your Android device will become infected with malware.
If you have already followed the link to download the software, Action Fraud says you can install some antivirus software onto your device to remove the malware. Sophos , AVG and Avast all offer this for free.
4. The supermarket vouchers
You get pinged a link on WhatsApp. It promises you a discount at a supermarket or retailer. In return, you have to fill in a short survey. A win-win situation, right?
But in fact, the link takes you to a counterfeit website, and when you plug your details in it goes straight to the scammers.
The same trick has been used to lure in shoppers around the world.
We Live Security says : “We are talking about an organized scam campaign that is operating on a global scale.”
5. The spy app
You stumble across a WhatsApp Spy app that allows you to see what your friends and colleagues are saying to each other on the messaging service.
You’ve always wondered what your friends REALLY think, and now you can find out. You download the link provided at once.
OK, you deserved this. There is no way of listening in to other people’s conversations on WhatsApp . Instead, you’ve just signed up to a fee-paying messaging service.
WhatsApp advice about scams
Needless to say, the team behind WhatsApp do not appreciate fraudsters jumping on the instant messaging bandwagon.
The official WhatsApp blog confirms it will never contact users with the above offerings.
And it warns us to be particularly cautious of messages where:
The sender claims to be affiliated with WhatsApp
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 or gift
Financial scams – How to stay safe
How to protect yourself
Action Fraud has the following tips for staying safe from WhatsApp scams:
Install security software on your device and keep it up to date.
Never click on unsolicited links in messages that you that receive, even if they appear to come from a trusted contact.
Follow WhatsApp’s advice for staying safe whilst using the messaging service.
To report a fraud and cyber crime and receive a police crime reference number, call Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or use its online fraud reporting tool .
For more advice on how to stay safe online, see our guides below: