WhatsApp has over a billion users. To put it another way, one in six people in the world uses the courier service. That’s a lot of people.
It also means that it is a trap for crooks. You just need to convince a tiny fraction of these users to make a lot of money.
Scammers who use WhatsApp often try to persuade you to pass on details that can be used in identity theft, such as your name and address.
Other scams will attempt to install malware – malware – on your phone. This spies on you effectively and collects information that can be used for sinister purposes.
A third type of scammers start charging you for services that should be free.
So what should we be looking for?
1. Asda WhatsApp scams
Scammers send fake Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Asda vouchers over WhatsApp, Action Fraud warned.
The messages appear to have been sent by an actual contact, but the recipient’s name is wrong and designed to trick you into clicking the URL to claim the purported voucher.
The messages read: “Hello, ASDA is giving away a free £ 250 voucher to celebrate their 68th birthday, go here to get it. Enjoy and thank you later!”.
But the retailer isn’t handing out £ 250 vouchers at all. The only semblance of truth is that, indeed, he is 68 years old.
There are two telltale signs that the scam is bogus: 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 you if you click on the URL, you are redirected to a bogus website designed to trick you into transmitting personal information.
Worse, once you click on, scammers can also collect personal information on your device by setting cookies on your phone that track you, or adding browser extensions that can be used to show you advertisements.
The scam uses remarkably similar wording to a series of scams on Facebook that offered people free flights and another for supermarket coupons.
A voicemail message has been left for you. But what is it? You just need to press the big “Listen” button to listen to the message.
But rather than revealing a mysterious caller, the button takes you to a questionable website that tries to install malware on your phone.
The Hoax Slayer website says, “Beware of any email that claims you have a voicemail message from WhatsApp and you have to click a button to hear it.
“Genuine WhatsApp voicemail messages will be sent through the app itself, not a separate email.”
3. WhatsApp Gold
WhatsApp users are tricked by fraudsters to download fake version of WhatsApp which infects Android devices with malware.
“Secret” messages sent to people’s inboxes claim that you have an exclusive chance to download “WhatsApp Gold”.
The scam messages claim to offer enhanced features used by celebrities. Victims are invited to register via a link provided. WhatsApp says 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 bogus page and your Android device will be infected with malware.
If you have already followed the link to download the software, Action Fraud says that you can install antivirus software on your device to remove the malware. Sophos, AVG, and Avast all offer this for free.
4. Supermarket coupons
You get a ping link on WhatsApp. He promises you a discount at a supermarket or retailer. In return, you must complete a short survey. A win-win situation, right?
But in fact, the link takes you to a fake website, and when you put in your details, it goes straight to the crooks.
The same trick has been used to attract buyers from all over the world.
We Live Security says, “We are talking about an organized scam campaign that operates on a global scale.”
5. The spy app
You come across a WhatsApp spy app that lets you see what your friends and colleagues are saying to each other over the messaging service.
You’ve always wondered what your friends REALLY think, and now you can find out. You download the provided link at once.
OK, you deserved this. There is no way to listen to other people’s conversations on WhatsApp. Instead, you just signed up for a paid email service.
WhatsApp tips on scams
Needless to say, the team behind WhatsApp doesn’t appreciate fraudsters getting on the instant messaging bandwagon.
The official WhatsApp blog confirms that it will never contact users with the above offers.
And this warns us to be especially careful with messages where:
The sender claims to be affiliated with WhatsApp
Message content includes instructions for forwarding the message
The message claims that you can avoid penalties, such as account suspension, if you forward the message
Message content includes reward or gift
How to protect yourself
Action Fraud offers the following tips to stay safe from WhatsApp scams:
Install security software on your device and keep it up to date.
Never click on unsolicited links in messages you receive, even if they appear to be from a trusted contact.
Follow the advice of WhatsApp to stay safe while using the messaging service.
To report fraud and cybercrime and receive a police reference number, call Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or use its online fraud reporting tool.
For more tips on how to stay safe online, check out our guides below: