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WhatsApp fraud: How to spot it and prevent it

March 2023 by

Online safety is increasingly important, even for popular platforms like WhatsApp. With over 2 billion users worldwide, WhatsApp has become a favourite target for fraudsters and tactics have become more ingenious and effective than ever. The majority of users are vulnerable when online, making it an irresistible platform for scammers.

Cybersecurity experts from VPN Overview can help with this by explaining what WhatsApp fraud is, how to recognise WhatsApp scams and how to prevent them.

What is WhatsApp fraud (friend or family emergency scam)?
WhatsApp fraud involves cybercriminals pretending to be someone known by the victim and asking for money. They pose as friends or family members with urgent financial needs, leading to victims losing thousands of pounds. Cybercriminals use familiar profile pictures and information from social media to deceive victims.
Advanced WhatsApp scam: WhatsApp hijacking
WhatsApp hijacking involves unauthorised access to a victim’s WhatsApp account by a cybercriminal, who then uses it to commit fraudulent activities. This form of fraud is more convincing to the victim as it appears to be coming from a known contact. The process of hacking into a WhatsApp account may seem complicated, but it is a common practice among cybercriminals.This is how it is done:
1. The fraudster obtains the phone number of the first victim.
2. The cybercriminal (re)installs WhatsApp on their phone or another device.
3. The criminal contacts the victim, impersonating an acquaintance of the victim.
4. The WhatsApp fraudster lies to the victim, saying that they have accidentally sent their verification code to the victim.
5. The cybercriminal tricks the victim into giving them the verification code, which they then type into their own phone thus gaining access to the victim’s WhatsApp account and all the victim’s contacts.
WhatsApp fraud and voicemail box hijacking
Another common trick for fraudsters is breaking into voicemail boxes to steal WhatsApp verification codes. They ask to receive a call instead of a text message, so they can call the victim’s phone number at the same time and redirect the code to the voicemail box. Many people fail to secure their voicemail boxes, making it easy for fraudsters to retrieve the code and take over the victim’s account. Once they have control, it is easy for the fraudster to defraud the victim’s contacts and take over their accounts. This type of fraud can quickly escalate and is difficult to spot, so individuals should adequately secure their accounts and be cautious of unexpected messages or calls asking for personal information or money.

What are the tell-tale signs of WhatsApp scams?
• Scammer creates a sense of urgency and pressures you to pay quickly.
• Scammer contacts you from an unknown number.
• Scammer informs about a number change and quickly talks about money.
• Poor English is used in their messages.
• Scammer does not want to be called.
• Scammer asks for money to be transferred to an unknown account or uses an app that hides account numbers.

Tips to prevent WhatsApp fraud
• Check if the number is correct if someone asks for money.
• Check the language and communication style of the message.
• Call the number or contact the person in a different way to verify the story.
• Do not let the fraudster pressure you; think logically.
• Ask the scammer a question only your friend or acquaintance would know the answer to if suspicious.
• Secure voicemail with a personal code.
• Never send a verification code without questioning.
• Set up "2-Factor Authentication" on WhatsApp.
Remember that the tips provided above are not only important to protect yourself. If criminals manage to hijack your WhatsApp account, they can easily scam your contacts and possibly take over the accounts of your friends and family as well.

I’ve been a victim of WhatsApp fraud, what can I do?
If you have been a victim of WhatsApp fraud, it is important to remain calm and report the incident to your bank and the police. Depending on the circumstances, it may be possible to reverse the payment, but individuals must act quickly. Wire transfers are harder to recover, and online payment services or apps can complicate the process. Even if a refund is not issued, the bank will investigate the fraud claim to protect customers and prevent future fraud. Reporting scams to WhatsApp and AnyScam is also recommended, and national help groups for victims of fraud can assist individuals in dealing with the process and preventing future fraud.

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