The WhatsApp Scam: How to Identify Them and Protect Yourself

Don’t be a target on this hugely popular messaging app

Scams are big business these days, and it isn’t always easy to know how to stay safe. Due to its enormous popularity, scammers are using WhatsApp for identity theft and to steal millions from poor, unsuspecting victims. 

What Is the WhatsApp Scam?

WhatsApp is a free text messaging and phone app that more than 600 million people use to communicate with colleagues, friends, and family securely. 

There are a few different variations of the WhatsApp scam, but the end result is the same. Scammers want to get their hands on your bank or credit card details or infect your phone with malware so they can take whatever else they like.

A conceptual illustration of a WhatsApp scammer.
 Lifewire / Theresa Chiechi

How Does the WhatsApp Scam Work?

There is nothing new about a WhatsApp scam; they have been circulating since at least 2013. However, the most popular WhatsApp scams that you should be aware of are:

Fake WhatsApp Versions

Scammers trick many users into downloading a fake version of WhatsApp called WhatsApp Gold. Victims thought they were getting more fun emoticons and a library of cool backgrounds, but what they got was a $40 per month fee that had nothing to do with WhatsApp.

Other WhatsApp enthusiasts were lured in by the thought of spying on their friends’ conversations and downloaded and installed WhatsApp Spy. Instead of gaining access to private, encrypted conversations, their phones were hijacked by malware. 

Fake Voicemail

WhatsApp does not have voicemail, but many scam victims don’t know that. Hundreds of people have received text messages claiming they have received a new voicemail, and all they have to do is tap the Play or Listen icon to hear it. Instead, the link infects their device with malware.

Scam Offers

Many WhatsApp scams involve ads for discounts or coupons. It’s completely fake, and the provided link doesn’t even exist on the real website. Using the link takes you to a fraudulent website that installs malware on your device. 

Fake ads and offers on WhatsApp
 MSN

Threats or Loss of Service

Some people complain about receiving texts from WhatsApp claiming their free service is about to expire, and they are urged to tap a link to enter payment details to keep it going. Unfortunately, WhatsApp has nothing to do with it; these are scammers who just want to steal credit cards and bank details. 

How Do the WhatsApp Scammers Find Victims?

Mass.gov issued a WhatsApp scam alert to residents to be careful on social media. Social media ads are one of the most effective ways fraudsters find their victims. Since WhatsApp links to your phone number, these criminals can also get their hands-on cell phone number lists and blast a whole group of recipients at once, hoping for a bite.

How Do I Avoid Getting Involved in This Scam?

It may seem obvious to some people how to avoid the WhatsApp messenger scam, but not to the gullible users who got caught. There are some telltale signs to look for when determining if it is a scam or not. These signs are:

  • Poor grammar and spelling in the messages.
  • You receive a message from a total stranger.
  • WhatsApp messages you directly. The company does not do this, ever.
  • The message threatens you or urges you to click a link or push a button.
  • Someone asks for payment information or other personal details. 

All of these things indicate a possible scam. To stay safe from these types of situations:

  • Never interact with links on social media, in text messages, or email unless you are sure you know who sent it and where it goes. Such emails, for example, could be phishing emails.
  • Never give out your personal details or payment information.
  • Be cautious of things that sound too good to be true, like prize winnings or crazy discounts and deals.
  • Always be on the lookout for suspicious sounding offers.
  • Keep your device updated with the latest security patches and antivirus software

I’m Already a Victim. What Should I Do?

If you are already a victim of the scam and gave out credit or debit card details, contact your bank immediately to cancel the cards and get new ones. Contact WhatsApp and file a formal complaint against the user who sent you the message. You may also want to contact the FTC to file a complaint. Change all your passwords, especially the one for WhatsApp, immediately.

Run a full scan on your device to ensure it is not infected with malware, and no one can remotely access your device. 

How Do I Avoid Being Targeted for The WhatsApp Scam?

Unfortunately, unless you want to retreat entirely from social media and delete WhatsApp, you can’t avoid becoming a target. However, armed with the knowledge of these scams, you can avoid getting caught and keep your phone safe and your money secure.