Eight common WhatsApp scams and how to avoid becoming a victim of fraudsters

A privacy expert is warning people about WhatsApp scams
-Credit: (Image: PA)

A number of scams are doing the rounds on WhatsApp - here's a list of the most common ones to look out for.

Trevor Cooke, privacy expert at EarthWeb, has offered advice on how to avoid becoming a victim of fraudsters. Among the scams appearing on WhatsApp are ones that target families, with criminals pretending to be the victim's child.

Others involve verification codes, dating or romance scams, investment cons and ones involving gift cards or coupons. Full details are provided below.

Trevor said: "To protect yourself, always be cautious of unsolicited messages, especially those requesting personal information or money. Verify the identity of the sender through other channels, and never share sensitive data or codes with anyone. Stay vigilant, and report any suspicious activity to WhatsApp and the appropriate authorities."

'Mum and Dad' scam

Scammers impersonate your family members, usually, the victim’s child, claiming they've lost their phone and are using someone else’s phone, and need money urgently. They may say that due to their lost device, they don’t have access to banking apps. Unsuspecting victims, believing that the person on the other end of the chat is really their family member and is in desperate need, end up sending funds to the scammers.

How to avoid: Verify their identity through other channels before sending any funds. Directly communicating with the person who is potentially being impersonated should easily reveal any potential scam.

Verification Code scam

When you set up WhatsApp on a new device, it sends a one-time verification code to your phone number. Scammers will claim they accidentally received your code and ask you to share it with them, saying it's the wrong number. If you share the code, they can gain full access to your WhatsApp account.

How to avoid: Never share these verification codes with anyone, even if they claim to be from WhatsApp support. These codes are solely for your use to activate WhatsApp on your own devices.

Dating or Romance scam

Romance scammers create fake profiles on WhatsApp and dating apps to start relationships with victims. They'll shower their victims with affection, quickly professing deep feelings. Once trust is built, they'll make up emergencies and ask for money, share explicit photos to try extorting, or gain enough personal info for identity theft.

How to avoid: Be very wary of strangers making over-the-top romantic gestures or promises very early on. Verify their identity through video calls and reverse image searches of their photos. Never send compromising photos or personal information.

Crypto/Investment scam

These scammers promise big returns on investments in cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, forex trading, or other get-rich-quick schemes. They'll use high-pressure tactics and false testimonials to lure victims into investing money into their fraudulent operations.

How to avoid: Thoroughly research any investment opportunity and the person/company offering it. Check for registered businesses, professional websites, reviews etc. Legitimate investments don't need to be peddled on WhatsApp. Never give money to anonymous sources promising guaranteed returns.

WhatsApp Gold scam

Scammers falsely claim there is a premium, paid version of WhatsApp called "WhatsApp Gold" with exclusive features. They'll send a link to download this “premium” version, which is actually just malware designed to steal your data.

How to avoid: There is no paid version of WhatsApp. Any claims of such are outright scams aiming to infect your device with malware or defraud you of money. Only download WhatsApp from official sources like the Google Play Store or Apple App Store.

Lottery scam

In this scam, you receive a message claiming you've won an international lottery or prize, but you must pay upfront “fees” or “taxes” to claim the supposed winnings. This is just a ploy to get you to send money to the scammers.

How to avoid: Legitimate lotteries never ask for money to award prizes. They will deduct any taxes from the winnings amount. Any request for upfront payment is a telltale sign of a scam.

Gift Card/Coupon scam

Fraudsters send messages offering free gift cards, coupons or vouchers for major retailers. But to receive them, you must share personal information like birth dates or make a “shipping payment” first.

How to avoid: Be extremely sceptical of any unsolicited offers of free gifts or vouchers, as these are likely ploys to steal your data or money. Major brands don't distribute gift cards this way.

Malware/Virus scams

Scammers send links or attachments containing malware, viruses or other malicious code. If opened, this infects your device and can give them unauthorised access to steal data like passwords and financial information.

How to avoid: Never open any links or attachments from unknown or suspicious sources, even if they appear to come from contacts (their accounts may be compromised). Enable security settings to automatically block suspicious links.