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WhatsApp scams

Several WhatsApp scams are popping up in South Africa at the moment and it might be a good idea to look out for these latest threats. 

  1. WhatsApp Gold
    This hoax has been around for a long time and is a simple phishing attack where you receive a message that WhatsApp has launched a new upgraded service called WhatsApp Gold. Often this app is advertised as free and includes features such as new themes and free voice calls. The message contains a link to download WhatsApp Gold, which installs malware on your cell phone. This malware enables hackers to steal your information or even to spy on your messages and communications. To avoid falling for scams like this never click on unknown links or download unverified software onto your cell phone.

  2. Voucher phishing
    Similar to the WhatsApp Gold scam, these messages are usually sent from a number impersonating a fake contact. They generally state that you have won a free voucher for a local supermarket in return for completing a short survey. The link contained in this message diverts to a fake website impersonating the supermarket’s web page. Once users have entered their details on the website, their information has been compromised and is fed straight to the scammers. Shoprite, OK and Pick ‘n Pay have reported scams using their branding on a fake website.

  3. Spy apps
    While browsing or in a WhatsApp message, you might find a link to download a WhatsApp “spy app” claiming to be able to see what your contacts are saying to each other, along with giving you the ability to intercept their pictures, voice messages, and images. Of course there is no way to intercept WhatsApp messages in this way as all WhatsApp conversations are encrypted. These fake “spy app” applications usually install malware on your phone or sign you up for expensive subscription services. Several students have reported that they have recently fallen victim to these scams. It is important to realise that the Google Play Store is not infallible and can also contain malware-infested spy apps.

  4. Verification request scams
    The last two scams are by far the most popular in South Africa. Verification request scams are spread through compromised accounts. (some of people you might know) You will receive a message from a user on your WhatsApp contact list asking to send your WhatsApp verification code. If you do, scammers will have access to your Whatsapp account and can take over your number. Never divulge your WhatsApp verification code and be wary of strange requests from your contacts.

  5. SIM-swop takeover
    Currently this is by far the biggest threat to South African WhatsApp users. The financial losses incurred by sim-swop victims in 2018 was a whopping R89 million. When SIM-swop fraud happens and the fraudsters take ownership of your number, they can easily and instantly install WhatsApp on their own smartphone and log in to your account. The two-factor authentication message will be sent to the number they now control and using WhatsApp, they can scam your contacts into divulging information or send them money by impersonating you.

    This is also a serious threat to other platforms that use SMS two-factor authentication – including many banking apps. You should check immediately with your cell phone provider if you lose access to your cell phone network for no apparent reason, as this is the first sign that SIM-swop fraud might have been committed.

[ARTICLE BY DAVID WILES]

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