How to recognize WhatsApp scams and stay safe

Anton P. | December 16, 2022

WhatsApp scams come after users’ accounts, personal information, passwords, and bank account details. A message from an unknown number could present false scenarios, impersonate people, or send bogus verification codes. 

If you get strange messages on WhatsApp, report them, block senders, and delete them. However, WhatsApp scams work when people believe them and take the required action. Scammers might include shortened links, files, and login or payment requests.

How do scams on WhatsApp work 

WhatsApp scams aim to trick users into revealing valuable information or releasing assets. Such personal details can facilitate account takeovers, identity theft, and financial losses. 

Usually, WhatsApp scammers follow the basic principles of social engineering, devising false scenarios to either interest or scare targets: 

  • Scammers enjoy creating a sense of urgency through emergencies or limited-time offers. 
  • Fraudsters manipulate targets’ emotions, either triggering fear or excitement. 
  • Messages also claim to originate from trustworthy sources like authorities, service providers, or even family members. 
  • Scammers might add other elements to make WhatsApp scams more believable, like SMS spoofing or fake websites copying legitimate ones. 

WhatsApp scams are smishing attempts when fake and misleading messages reach targets’ smartphones. 

WhatsApp has around 2 billion users active every month. Thus, the large pool of potential victims makes WhatsApp the preferred social media for scams. 

Types of WhatsApp scams 

WhatsApp scams can originate from phone numbers purchased from the dark web for mass smishing campaigns. However, it can also go beyond misleading messages. For instance, scammers could design fake apps and distribute them as WhatsApp

Impersonation of trusted people

Scammers can pretend to be family members, friends, police, or service providers. Usually, such scams generate two main pretexts, fake situations that WhatsApp messages explain: 

  • Family members need help due to emergencies. These WhatsApp scams can be highly emotional, attempting to take advantage of parents and grandparents. Hi, Mum is a scam that indicates that the son or daughter has changed their phone number. 
  • Friends recommend people watch videos or check new deals or announcements. In other cases, alleged friends-in-need scams require money transfers to cover bills or unfortunate incidents. 
  • Alleged service providers might claim issues with accounts, forms, or offer discounts

Energy bill deals and tax scams 

Fraudsters also exploit the increased costs of living and high bills for their WhatsApp scams. According to BBC News, people between the ages of 21-30 are the prime targets for such misleading messages. 

The scams focusing on the cost-of-living challenges can require personal information like passwords, PINs, or bank details. 

WhatsApp account hijacking 

Researchers report multiple techniques fraudsters can use to take over WhatsApp accounts. One such method exploited automated call forwarding and one-time verification. 

Once scammers gain control over an account of legitimate WhatsApp users, they can perform other fraudulent activities. That includes sending fake messages to all contacts. Then, impersonation scams become even more challenging to recognize. 

WhatsApp Gold offers

The WhatsApp Gold scam involves fraudulent messages promoting WhatsApp Gold. The latter gets described as a premium service packed with more exciting features. 

However, it is a scam, and culprits likely require money transfers or banking account details in exchange for premium services. In other cases, scammers might indicate that a different WhatsApp is necessary for the Gold plan to work. 

WhatsApp messaging app is completely free and offers no special subscriptions or separate apps. 

Verification codes 

WhatsApp scams featuring verification codes attempt to take over accounts. A targeted user will receive a verification despite not asking for it. 

Then, an unknown entity will ask for the code using various social engineering strategies. If the user provides the verification code to the scammer, they will likely get locked out of their WhatsApp account. 

WhatsApp tech support scams

Another common scam claims to originate from official WhatsApp tech support teams. Typically, the alleged messages will spin the following stories: 

  • Someone has hacked your WhatsApp account, and you need to verify your identity. 
  • Rogue claims about delayed payments or issues with transactions users never made. 
  • The fake tech support team announces terms of use changes or informs of other special deals on WhatsApp. 

Fake Google ads for WhatsApp

Such WhatsApp scams insert rogue Google ads in its search results. While the entry leads to a lookalike of the WhatsApp website, it is fake. The reported fake version of WhatsApp site contained a QR code. If users scanned it, scammers scooped their credentials. 

Bogus job recruiters 

Some WhatsApp scams can focus on people looking for new career opportunities. In this case, fake recruiters contact unsuspecting WhatsApp users. However, respectable companies are unlikely to choose WhatsApp for their official text messaging. 

Such fake recruiters can provide bogus information on open positions in well-known companies. But applying for the job costs money, or the alleged company representatives will require highly personal information. 

How not to become a victim of a WhatsApp scam 

WhatsApp scams can be resourceful and make fake messages believable, urgent, and genuine. Nevertheless, you can stay ahead of them by following these simple recommendations.  

  1. Set up two-factor authentication 

Two-factor authentication (2FA) means that your login process gets an extra step. In addition to credentials, you will also need a one-time code. Without it, you cannot access protected accounts. 

WhatsApp offers users to set a PIN that they will need to provide periodically. However, since the PIN is a stable combination, bear in mind that it might get exposed. 

  1. Double-check link safety

You need to check link safety before clicking on URLs in WhatsApp messages. Tap and hold on to the URL to copy it, and paste it into a safe location to see its destination.  

  1. Contact family, friends, or services 

If your family member or friend asks for help via WhatsApp, call their usual number. You should do this before deciding to transfer money or engage in further contact. 

Find their official helpline numbers if law authorities or service providers contact you via WhatsApp. Initiate further contact through the numbers you see listed on official websites. 

  1. Messages from unknown numbers 

All messages from unknown numbers should be suspicious. Confirm the claims, offers, and other information within such communications. 

  1. Report the scam to WhatsApp

You might immediately recognize WhatsApp scams and delete messages. However, the best course of action is to report the sender. Also, block the number to prevent culprits from flooding WhatsApp with similar messages. 

What to do if you have fallen victim to WhatsApp scams? 

If WhatsApp scams convince you to give away your bank details, contact your bank provider as soon as possible. 

If you get your account hacked, inform your contacts about it as soon as possible using other means. You should also contact WhatsApp support about recovering your account.

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Anton P.

Anton P.

Former chef and the head of Atlas VPN blog team. He's an experienced cybersecurity expert with a background of technical content writing.

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