WhatsApp dominates South Africa's instant chat landscape. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)
Johannesburg - Social network giant Facebook announced recently that its instant messaging internet app WhatsApp now has one billion users.
READ: WhatsApp hits one billion users
While the service helps people stay in touch at low cost, it also has its share of scam artists.
Last year, Fin24 reported about a an SMS scam that advertised WhatsApp add-ons or updates. When unsuspecting users clicked on an update link in the SMS, they actually signed up to a service that deducted R7 from their phone bill every day.
READ: Watch out for this WhatsApp scam
However, with the global growth of WhatsApp, more scam-artists around the world are looking to the service to scam anyone, anywhere.
Here then are five scams on WhatsApp that have been reported around the world:
1. Fraudsters hijacking conversations
Anti-virus software company Kaspersky is warning WhatsApp users of fraudsters who hijack real conversations on the application.
Scam-artists are now able to insert malicious links into a WhatsApp message thread from your real friends.
This insertion typically takes the form of a message like ‘Look here’ followed by a link, according to a report on the Daily Mail.
Because the message appears to be a link from a legitimate WhatsApp friend, the risk is higher that users can click on the link which then leads to a sign-up page that promises a voucher of a certain value.
Fraudsters then save this information and users can end up with malware on their phones.
“The message convinces the user to forward the message to 10 contacts, so he/she can receive a certain promotion (such as £5 discount at Starbucks, Zara etc). So, there is no auto-replication technique but the same end-user just sends it to his or her contacts,” David Emm, a principal security researcher at Kaspersky Lab, told the Daily Mail.
2. You have voicemail
Fraudsters are also trying to use WhatsApp’s voice message function to trick users, according to the Hoax Slayer website.
The website says that this scam typically takes the form of an email which pretends to be from WhatsApp and which says you have an incoming voice message.
“The message features a large ‘Listen’ button that supposedly allows you to hear your message,” says the Hoax Slayer website.
“However, the email is not from WhatsApp and the button does not lead to a voice message. Clicking the button actually opens a version of the notorious Canadian Pharmacy spam website that tries to sell you dodgy pharmaceutical products,” said the website.
3. ‘The premium version’
This scam has been found to hit some users in Spain, according to website Softpedia.
The scam involves promoting a premium or gold version of WhatsApp on social media sites. Features of the fake premium WhatsApp version are said to include special emoticons and backgrounds.
But clicking on the download link is said to refer to a web page that requests the user’s phone number for validation purposes. If users sign up, they risk subscribing to a paid messaging service.
4. Spy on friends
A blog post on emsisoft.com says that some scam artists are promoting applications that falsely promise to spy on your friends’ conversations with other people.
However, these apps instead load malware onto your phone, making you susceptible to being spied on.
5. Fake stock recommendations
Finally, website WealthManagement.com says scammers are also trying to promote and recommend stock investments to WhatsApp users.
WhatsApp users may find themselves receiving a message that recommends them to invest in a company whose stock price is rocketing upwards.
But this is actually part of a 'pump-and-dump' scam which attempts to inflate a specific price for a stock. Once inflated, the organisers of the scam then sell the stock, resulting in a price dive.
Have you been a victim of one of these WhatsApp scams? Tell us by clicking here.
WhatsApp's tips to protect yourself
Meanwhile, WhatsApp offers the following advice on its blog if you suspect you're receiving scam messages on the service:
"You may be the target of a deceptive scheme if any of the following describes a message you receive, via WhatsApp or email:
- The sender claims to be affiliated with WhatsApp.
- The message content includes instructions to forward the message.
- The message claims you can avoid punishment, like account suspension, if you forward the message.
- The message content includes a reward or gift, such as an extended or free WhatsApp subscription."