WhatsApp app in an app folder
Jason Montoya / How-To Geek
Anyone on WhatsApp giving away money, pressuring you to send money, asking for an SMS verification code, or offering job opportunities is likely a scam. Avoid tapping links, keep sensitive information to yourself, be skeptical of friends claiming they've changed their number, and don't return missed calls from unknown numbers.

From fake tech support to Facebook Marketplace, scammers are trying to deceive unsuspecting users everywhere. And WhatsApp Messenger hasn’t remained unscathed. So here are some tips to help you identify a scammer and some common scams on WhatsApp.

Why Are There So Many WhatsApp Scams?

WhatsApp is the biggest messenger app in the world, way ahead of WeChat, Facebook Messenger, and Telegram. It’s used by over two billion people globally, and a large selection of this user base isn’t well-versed in mobile devices, social media, and the internet at large. Unfortunately, these unsuspecting users are juicy targets for scammers. So essentially, the messaging app’s popularity has made it a target, similar to how Windows is a bigger target for malicious actors than macOS.

How to Identify a WhatsApp Scam

Most WhatsApp scams have common defining traits that can help you identify them and keep yourself safe.

Messages Originating From Unknown Numbers

Unless a scammer has hijacked your family member’s or friend’s WhatsApp, scammers will contact you from an unknown number. Many of these numbers are often international.

Asking for an Urgent Action

Scammers like to alarm their victims. In a state of panic, the victims cannot think clearly and are more likely to make mistakes. Fraudsters often claim that your account could be blocked if you don’t perform a particular task, or you may face legal action.

Grammatical or Spelling Errors

If you have received a message from a random number claiming to be a business or governmental agency, and it includes grammatical or spelling errors, it’s very likely a scam. Legitimate companies don’t typically make such mistakes as all their customer-bound communication is checked and double-checked.

However, it’s worth pointing out that the rise of AI chatbots like ChatGPT has made it easy for anyone to generate messages with perfect English. They can even imitate specific people’s writing styles and take on unique personas, so don’t trust someone just because they seem to have good grammar skills.

Messages Offering Prizes and Giveaways

Everyone loves a giveaway, so it’s no surprise scammers will use free money and expensive tech to try luring you in. You will never win a random prize, and no Nigerian prince or princess will give you their money for safekeeping. Therefore consider any unanticipated windfall or giveaway you haven’t participated in a scam.

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Common Scams on WhatsApp

WhatsApp scammers use everything from social engineering to malicious links to defraud their victims. While their modus operandi continuously evolves, here are some of the most common scams you’ll encounter on the app.

Impersonating a Family Member

Impersonation scams are one of the most common scams on WhatsApp. The scammer pretends to be a family member or friend in these scams and claims they have changed their original number. The conversation eventually leads to them asking for money as their bank account, credit card, and other modes are not working. Scammers will refuse to accept a call and make some excuse. These scammers will try and rush you to send them money because of some made-up urgency.

Complete a Survey and Get a Free Gift

It’s common for businesses to send surveys to their customers to get their feedback. But scammers use this behavior to dupe WhatsApp users by sending them surveys and claiming they can win rewards by completing a survey. After they complete the survey, they are redirected to a webpage and asked to share sensitive personal information, like bank account details, address, and more, to get the reward. Sometimes, users are also asked to send some money, such as shipping fees or other charges, to claim their prize.

Verification Message Trick

Verification message scams are aimed at gaining access to your WhatsApp account. Whenever you log into your account from a new device, WhatsApp sends a numerical code to your phone number to verify that it’s indeed you who is trying to switch devices. But scammers try to deceive you by pretending you have received the verification code meant for someone else and ask you to share the code. If you share the code, they will get immediate access to your WhatsApp account, and you’ll be logged out. Afterward, they can change the phone number, leaving you completely locked out.

These scams can become quite dangerous as the malicious actor can then use your WhatsApp account, rather than some random number, to reach out to your contacts and ask them to send money, do stuff, and more.

Activating New Features in WhatsApp

Another type of fraud you may encounter involves scammers trying to entice you with unique features that can be activated by clicking on a link. Unsurprisingly, these links are malicious, and instead of getting new features, you can end up spamming your entire contact list or losing your WhatsApp account entirely.

Job Offers and Investment Opportunities

This is an unusual one. In this fraudulent scheme, scammers leave quick missed calls from random international numbers on the WhatsApp accounts of unsuspecting users. Thinking it may be an important call, people call the numbers back and are offered a chance to earn money by liking social media profiles. Scammers even pay small amounts for a couple of initial tasks. But once the victim starts trusting the scammer, they are lured into investing larger sums of money for promised high returns. Once the scammers get the investment from a victim, they disappear.

RELATED: 6 LinkedIn Scams to Watch Out For

How to Avoid Scammers on Whatsapp

By now, you have a fair idea of what to expect from scammers on WhatsApp. Of course, being vigilant always helps, but here are a few more tips on avoiding scammers on the messaging service.

Be Wary of Messages Asking for Money

It’s wise to question sudden requests for money on WhatsApp, especially from unknown numbers claiming to be family members or friends. You can confirm their request through another mode of communication or talk to them through WhatsApp’s voice or video call features. This will help you ensure that you are transferring money to someone you know rather than a fraudster.

Don’t Click on Unknown Links

It’s a matter of good cyber hygiene to avoid clicking on suspicious or unknown links. These links can help scammers install malware on your device. In addition, if it’s a legitimate link, you can find it through Google or another search engine.

RELATED: How to Spot a Fraudulent Website

Don’t Panic or Feel Pressured

As mentioned earlier, scammers like to create urgency to dupe unsuspecting people. But don’t panic or get pressured by someone you can’t even see into doing something you might regret later. Instead, think about the situation and then act. You can also search about it online; if it’s a scam, there is a good chance other people are talking about it. Or you can reach out to someone in your friend circle or family who is better informed than you.

Use Two-Factor Authentication

Two-factor authentication is a great way to deter hackers from taking over your WhatsApp or any other account. Of course, it’s not foolproof, but it goes a long way to keeping your account safe. We have a nifty guide to help you set up two-factor authentication on WhatsApp.

Avoid Too-Good-to-Be-True Schemes

Too-good-to-be-true or get-rich-quickly schemes are the fastest ways to lose your hard-earned money. Avoid anyone who pitches you on such a scheme on WhatsApp or life, in general, is likely trying to defraud you. However, if the scheme still sounds enticing, research, talk to the people around you, and then make an informed decision.

Don’t Return Missed Calls From Unknown Numbers

Random missed calls from international numbers are an increasingly common way for scammers to get unsuspecting people to call them. If you receive such a missed call, it’s best to ignore it. If someone you know is trying to call you, they will try again and will not leave a missed call, as calling on WhatsApp is free.

Don’t Share Sensitive Information Over WhatsApp

Sharing personal, sensitive information with unknown people on WhatsApp is typically not a good idea. If someone from a business or government wants your information, reach out to them separately via official channels, confirm the request, and then share the information personally at their office or branch or to their official communication email address.

Report and Block Scammers

If you have identified a scammer on WhatsApp, block and report them to the service to make sure they aren’t able to dupe other customers. To report or block a scammer’s number, go to WhatsApp’s “Calls” tab. Then navigate to the number and tap on the icon with “i” next to it. WhatsApp will open the contact info page for that number, and you can scroll down to find the “Block” and “Report” options. You’ll have to be careful here, as any taps outside of the “i” icon will instantly dial that number.

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Profile Photo for Gaurav Shukla Gaurav Shukla
Gaurav Shukla is a technology journalist with over a decade’s experience reporting and writing about consumer technology. His work has appeared in Android Police, XDA Developers, and NDTV Gadgets 360.
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