WhatsApp scams used to be for the most part innocent, the digital equivalent to the chain letter. But today WhatsApp scams are increasingly nasty, whether they want to scrounge your personal data or install malware on your device. Check our guide to common WhatsApp scams and you'll know which ones to delete.
A twist on the common WhatsApp Gold scam, this message claims:
"This is from our IT guy: If you know anyone using WhatsApp you might pass on this. An IT colleague has advised that a video comes out tomorrow from WhatsApp called martinelli do not open it, it hacks your phone and nothing will fix it. Spread the word.
"If you receive a message to update the WhatsApp to WhatsApp Gold, do not click!!!!
"Please inform all contacts from your list not to open a video called the "Dance of the Pope". It is a virus that formats your mobile. Beware it is very dangerous. They announced it today on BBC radio. Fwd this msg to as many as you can!"
There are two parts to this message: first, the idea that a "martinelli" or "Dance of the Pope" video is going to format your phone; and second, it refers to the WhatsApp Gold scam.
There is no evidence that such a video exists, nor that it will format your phone. This is your typical pass-it-on scam.
However, the second part about WhatsApp Gold is a nod to a genuine scam that has for the past few years attempted to fool users into thinking WhatsApp is going to become chargeable once again, and that by signing up they can avoid the charge. Any links in these messages are going to be dodgy, designed only to capture your personal (and likely banking) details.
Verification code links
A warning has been issued in the United Arab Emirates - and it's good advice for us all - against WhatsApp verification code messages that contain links.
When you first install WhatsApp you are sent a message with a code that you must enter into the app to verify your phone number. You are not required to click on a link to verify your number. Neither are you required to verify your phone number following the initial installation of the app.
However, scammers are reportedly catching out the unaware by fooling them into clicking these links, then hacking their WhatsApp accounts and taking over control.
Back in September 2018 Police warned over a new WhatsApp hoax they are calling 'Olivia', the name the scammer tends to go under, in which kids are targeted with a series of messages from someone pretending to be a friend of a friend or a friend with a new number. If they respond they are then hit with links to pornographic sites and content. We have full details here: make sure your kids know to steer well clear.
Free Adidas trainers
A particularly clever phishing scam is doing the rounds on WhatsApp in the US, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium, India, Pakistan and elsewhere, claiming that Adidas is offering 2,500 free pairs of trainers in celebration of its 69th anniversary. The message includes a link, which looks genuine - but on closer inspection there is not dot above the i in Adidas.
This is known as a homoglyph attack, explains Eset, and on clicking the link you are redirected to a survey with four questions. At the end of this they are instructed to share the link in order to claim their prize, but of course there is no prize.
Instead you get an offer to claim your trainers for $1, which actually signs you up to a dodgy subscription service that will charge you $49.99 a month.
You'll need to be 16 to use WhatsApp
Aer Lingus free flight
Aer Lingus has issued a warning to customers in Ireland making them aware of a new scam that attempts to trick users into clicking a dodgy link by offering free flights. This is not a genuine offer, and the messages are not from Aer Lingus. Please do not fall for it, and do not pass it on.
We don't run promotions on WhatsApp. If you receive one claiming to be from us, it's 100 percent fake. You will not receive free flights. Please do not engage with it as your data privacy may be compromised if you do so.— Aer Lingus (@AerLingus) April 16, 2018
Request to transfer your number
The most recent WhatsApp scam involves a text message suggesting that "You have requested to transfer your number to another device. This change will be made within 24 hours. If you did not make this request please call 0902 394 1246."
It's a scam: don't call the number. It's a premium number, and will cost you.
You don't need to request a transfer of your number on to another device on WhatsApp, you simply download the app on that device and verify your phone number on it, at which point the app on your old device ceases to work.
Free £250 shopping voucher
One of the most common WhatsApp scams is one that offers a link with the promise of a free £250 gift card for either Sainsbury's, M&S, Tesco and Asda. The M&S version is pictured here.
Even the most savvy WhatsApp users are falling for this scam, because who doesn't want £250 in shopping vouchers? And anyway, what's the worst that can happen, right? Well...
By clicking on the link you are taken to a survey page that asks you to answer various personal questions. This survey has absolutely nothing to do with the supermarket, and everything to do with stealing your data.
You might think you're doing your friends a favour by passing it on, but you're really not.
Dodgy WhatsApp attachments
A recent WhatsApp scam to come to our attention hopes to trick the user into opening a legitimate-looking Word, Excel or PDF document attached to a WhatsApp message that will actually download malware to their device and can then steal their personal information.
All reports originate from India, and apparently use the names of the NDA (National Defence Academy) and NIA (National Investigation Agency) in an attempt to get users to open them, but it won't take much for the scam to make its way to the UK too.
A similar message did the rounds in the UK that tried to persuade users to download a £100 Sainsbury's voucher. In reality, the link simply installed cookies or a browser extension on the user's phone that could be used to serve adverts to them.
The easiest way to avoid this scam is to delete the message, and never to download an unexpected document attachment - whether or not it comes from a trusted contact.
If you're concerned that you may have already downloaded malware on to your device, see our guide on how to remove malware from Android.
You have to pay for WhatsApp
Can you imagine life without WhatsApp? Well fortunately, you probably don't have to. One well known WhatsApp scam goes as follows:
"tomorrow at 6 pm they are ending WhatsApp and you have to pay to open it, this is by law
This message is to inform all of our users, our servers have recently been very congested, so we are asking you to help us solve this problem. We require our active users to forward this message to each of the people in your contact list to confirm our active users using WhatsApp, if you do not send this message to all your contacts WhatsApp will then start to charge you. Your account will remain inactive with the consequence of losing all your contacts. Message from Jim Balsamic (CEO of Whatsapp ) we have had an over usage of user names on whatsapp Messenger. We are requesting all users to forward this message to their entire contact list. If you do not forward this message, we will take it as your account is invalid and it will be deleted within the next 48 hours. Please DO NOT ignore this message or whatsapp will no longer recognise your activation.
If you wish to re-activate your account after it has been deleted, a charge of 25.00 will be added to your monthly bill.
We are also aware of the issue involving the pictures updates not showing. We are working diligently at fixing this problem and it will be up and running as soon as possible. Thank you for your cooperation from the Whatsapp team”
WhatsApp is going to cost us money soon. The only way that it will stay free is if you are a frequent user i.e. you have at least 10 people you are chatting with. To become a frequent user send this message to 10 people who receive it (2 ticks) and your WhatsApp logo should turn blue"
This is absolutely not true, and under no circumstances should you fall for it. If you're still not convinced, just think about it: you are sending a message to everyone on your contact list to help solve congestion? WhatsApp is also based on phone numbers, not user names. We could go on...
Another WhatsApp hoax offers an exclusive invitation to upgrade to a premium version of the app, called WhatsApp Gold. It's complete and utter rubbish: there is no WhatsApp Gold.
"The invitation reads: "Hey Finally Secret Whatsapp golden version has been leaked, This version is used only by big celebrities. Now we can use it too."
It claims to allow you to delete messages after you've sent them, and simultanously send 100 pictures, among other things. It sounds great, but it's entirely made up. Click on the link in the invitation and you're more likely to end up with a malware infection. (See how to remove a virus from Android if you've already done so.)
WhatsApp email virus
One WhatsApp scam isn't delivered via WhatsApp itself but through your email app on your Android phone or iPhone. It tells you that you have missed a WhatsApp call or have a WhatsApp voice message, which you should click on the link in the email to access. Rather than your message, you get a virus downloaded to your device.
Please don't be fooled. WhatsApp will never contact you outside WhatsApp itself, so if you see this then do not click the link and delete the message.
WhatsApp is closing down
One WhatsApp hoax that regularly does the rounds is that which asks you to forward the message to 10 people or the service will close down.
WhatsApp has millions of users, and it really won't notice you sending 10 messages through the service. It is not about to close down, and this is very much a hoax.
Another variation suggests there are too many WhatsApp users, and it will close your account if you don't start using it.
The chain message reads: Message from Jim Balsamic (CEO of Whatsapp). We have had an over usage of user names on WhatsApp Messenger. We are requesting all users to forward this message to their entire contact list.
"If you do not forward this message, we will take it as your account is invalid and it will be deleted within the next 48 hours. Please DO NOT ignore this message or WhatsApp will no longer recognise your activation."
If you don't act in time, WhatsApp will apparently charge you £25 to reactivate your account, which will be added to your phone bill.
Except it won't, because WhatsApp has been a free service for some time.
As it says on its official blog: "WhatsApp will no longer charge subscription fees. For many years, we've asked some people to pay a fee for using WhatsApp after their first year. As we've grown, we've found that this approach hasn't worked well. Many WhatsApp users don't have a debit or credit card number and they worried they'd lose access to their friends and family after their first year. So over the next several weeks, we'll remove fees from the different versions of our app and WhatsApp will no longer charge you for our service."
Inactive users will have to pay
By far the most popular WhatsApp hoax is that which suggests the service will start charging inactive users a certain amount per message, so by sending the message on to 10 users they can prove they are an active member and loyal to WhatsApp, and therefore deserving of its free service.
Really? Ask yourself how sending that message you don't pay for to 10 people could possibly keep open the company if it was that desperate for cash? If it were skint, it wouldn't have decided to ditch its subscription fees.
One variation of this message claims to come from the app’s founder, “David D. Suretech”. Never mind that Brian Acton and Jan Koum are the actual founders of WhatsApp.
It reads: ”Hello, I. Am DAVID D. SURETECH founder of Whatsapp. this message is to inform all of our users that we have only 53million accounts available for new phones. Our servers have recently been very congested, so we asking for your help to solve this problem. We need our active users to forward this message to every single person in their contact list in order to confirm our active users that use WhatsApp. If you do not send this message to all your contacts to WhatsApp, then your account will remain inactive with the consequence of losing all your contacts. The automatic update symbol on your SmartPhone Will appear with the transmission of this message. Your smartphone will be updated within 24 hours, and will feature a new design; a new color for the chat and the icon will change from green to azul. Whatsapp will begin to charge unless you are a frequent user. If you have at least 10 contacts send this sms and the logo will become red on your platform to indicate that you are an active user. Tomorrow, we wil begin to take messages for whatsapp for 0.37 cents. Forward this message to more than 9 people in your contact list and the what's app logo on your will turn blue meaning that you have Become a free user for life.”
WhatsApp's response to all such scams is as follows: “Please understand that this is a hoax and there is no truth to it.”