WhatsApp fraud, you think “that won’t happen to me.” Hopefully, you are right. Because the numbers are showing something completely different. In February 2020 Whatsapp counted 2 billion users worldwide. It is no surprise this platform has become a targeted place for fraudsters. Users have become more vulnerable over time because scammers have been using tactics that are becoming more and more ingenious and more effective.
WhatsApp fraud is on the rise, causing each victim, on average, thousands of dollars of losses.
What is WhatsApp Fraud?
In WhatsApp fraud, a scammer pretends to be known to you via WhatsApp. For example, a family member, friend or acquaintance. This fraudster tells you that he or she has a new phone number. Once the contact is established, the scammer will ask you to transfer an amount of money to him or her. For example to pay an outstanding bill.
The specified account number or sent payment request is often from a “cat catcher”. That is someone who owns the bank account in name only. In this way, the fraudster remains out of reach of the police and the judiciary. They withdraw the stolen money from an ATM as soon as possible.
How WhatsApp Fraud Works
Scammers are sophisticated. The app you receive actually appears to be from someone you know. For example, the WhatsApp profile contains a photo taken from the internet. Beforehand, the scammers carefully studied the social media profile of their victim.
The fraudsters imitate the way family and friends address you on social media. When criminals hack into accounts, they can even steal recordings from your friends and family. They play these when they contact you, so that it really looks like you are hearing the person you know. But it never ends in an extensive conversation.
How do you recognize WhatsApp fraud?
A “known person” asks you for money, there is a lot of haste and it usually involves substantial amounts. For example, your so-called son or friend has been robbed abroad. Or he has to pay a bill urgently, but the bank’s website is down. A credible emergency is created to put you under pressure.
This “known” usually uses an unknown number. Often someone first texts or texts that they have a new phone number. The photo accompanying the number seems reliable, but the scammer conveniently avoids other contact. Critical questions to check whether it is really “that known” are avoided. He has to enter a meeting, pick up his daughter from school, or the connection drops.
Why do people fall for it anyway?
The fraudsters address their victim directly. For example with: “Hi Dad, this is my new phone number, you can delete the old number.” If someone does not respond negatively, the scammer will ask for money a little later. Not everyone immediately realizes that it could be a scam.
Scammers are also good at making people believe they really are someone you know. They keep coming up with new, better ways to fool their victims. In many cases of WhatsApp fraud, the criminals have hacked the phone and are thus in possession of the victim’s phone number. They text or text about your children, your work, or something that just happened. In reality, they found this information on platforms such as Facebook or LinkedIn.
This is WhatsApp hijacking and this is how you will get your account back
Can’t access your WhatsApp account anymore? But do other people receive messages from you? Then your account has been hacked. To get your account back, delete WhatsApp from your phone. Restart the phone and download the app again.
Then log in to your WhatsApp account. You verify your phone number with the six-digit code that you will then receive by text message. Once you enter this code, the hacker will no longer be able to access your WhatsApp account.
Even more sophisticated: a combination of WhatsApp fraud and spoofing
With spoofing, you will see a trusted phone number on your screen when you receive a call. For example an existing telephone number from your bank or someone you know. In reality, you have a criminal on the phone. With special software, the criminal is tricking your phone.
The number of victims of this form of scam is growing rapidly. It can also happen that a scammer combines spoofing with WhatsApp fraud. In that case, the fraudster will try to get you to transfer money. Or someone wants to access your computer to obtain login details.
What to do if you are a victim of WhatsApp fraud
Have you nevertheless transferred money to a scammer? In that case, file a report with the police. But in some countries, there are specific departments setup to report cybercrime. For US citizens you can file a complaint with the FBI. For more info go to the Internet Crime Complaint Center. As proof, you can take screenshots of the WhatsApp conversations with the scammer. And last but not least report the fraud to WhatsApp.
How do you protect yourself against WhatsApp fraud?
Never just transfer money to anyone based on WhatsApp messages. Always make sure to call the person asking for help first. Video calling is even better.
Do you receive an unsolicited WhatsApp verification code and then the request to forward this code? Obviously, you shouldn’t do that. Do you want to better protect your WhatsApp account from hackers? This is possible with two-step verification: an extra layer of security. You can activate this yourself within one minute in the WhatsApp settings. You do that like this.