Social media has transformed how we interact, communicate, and conduct business with others all over the world. The open nature of the network creates opportunities for malicious actors to exploit unsuspecting users by utilizing deceptive tactics.

For example, WhatsApp, the most used messaging app in most African countries with 97%, 96%, and 95% penetration rates in Kenya, South Africa, and Nigeria, respectively,  has become a popular target for exploiting unsuspecting users despite end-to-end encryption. 

These bad actors use various methods, such as phishing, identity theft, and fraud, to target and deceive individuals and businesses using WhatsApp to carry out fraudulent schemes promising attractive rewards.

So, how exactly can you identify potential WhatsApp scams? How can you protect yourself and your business from falling victim to WhatsApp fraudsters? 

Eight WhatsApp Frauds to Watch Out 

1. WhatsApp Scammers Never Want a Phone Call: WhatsApp scammers will always be reluctant to have a phone or video call with you. Instead, they prefer to communicate via text to avoid being recognized and exposed. If someone you encounter on WhatsApp constantly avoids live conversations, especially when soliciting financial assistance, or becomes evasive when asked for a call, exercising caution and questioning their intentions should become your default approach. 

2. Payment Requests to Unknown/Unlisted Accounts: This is another common tactic WhatsApp scammers use to defraud unsuspecting users. Pretending to be friends or acquaintances needing urgent financial assistance, they may request payment to unknown or unlisted accounts that don’t belong to the claimed entity. Verifying the sender’s identity through other means before making any payments, even for business purposes, is important. 

3. Unusual Requests for Personal Information`

It’s common for WhatsApp scammers to try obtaining sensitive information such as bank account details, Social Security numbers, or user passwords. It’s important to note that legitimate organizations, including banks and government agencies, will never ask for such information through messaging apps. Always exercise caution when someone asks you to share personal data and verify the authenticity of the request through official channels.

4. Unsolicited Offers and Prize Claims: Beware of unsolicited messages claiming you have won a prize, lottery, or any other significant reward (you never applied to win). Bad actors use enticing offers to deceive victims into providing personal information or making some payments in exchange for fictitious rewards. To stay alert and avoid such scams, you must always remember that legitimate contests or giveaways will never ask you for upfront payments or sensitive data. 

5. Impersonation of Trusted Contacts: Beware of fraudsters on WhatsApp who impersonate your trusted contacts to deceive you. They may clone the profile picture and display the name of someone you know, making it appear that the message is coming from them. Most popularly, they often clone the profiles of friends living in other countries, asking you to pay for a specific account as they are unable to pay from their current location. Always verify the authenticity of messages, especially if the content seems out of character or requests unusual actions.

6. Links to Suspicious Websites or Downloads: Bad actors may send links suspicious links or downloads sent through WhatsApp.These links could contain malware or lead to phishing sites that aim to steal your login credentials or personal information. To avoid falling victim to such scams, avoid clicking on links from unknown sources and refrain from downloading attachments or files without verifying their legitimacy.

7. Pressure to Act Quickly: WhatsApp fraudsters often use urgency and time-sensitive language to pressure victims into making hasty decisions. They may claim that you need to act immediately to claim a prize, avoid penalties, or resolve a problem. Before taking any action, always evaluate the situation, especially if it involves financial transactions or sharing personal information.

8. Misspellings and Grammatical Errors: Scammers may not always have the best language skills, leading to misspellings and grammatical errors in their messages. Though not a definitive indicator of fraud, the language used in messages is worth paying attention to, especially if it differs significantly from what you expect from your trusted contacts.

Practical tips to Protecting Yourself from WhatsApp Fraud

1. Verify the Identity: Always verify the identity of the person contacting you, especially if they make unusual requests or solicit money. Confirm their identity through other means, such as a phone call or a separate messaging app. 

2. Be Cautious with Personal Information: Avoid sharing sensitive information such as your Social Security Number (SSN), Bank Verification Number (BVN), or passwords. 

3. Be Skeptical of Unsolicited Offers: Always use official channels to verify the legitimacy of unsolicited offers or prize claims before taking any action.

4. Stay Informed and Educated: Stay updated on the latest WhatsApp scams and fraud tactics through reliable sources to recognize potential threats and take preventive measures.

5. Educate your friends and family – especially elderly ones, about WhatsApp scams to raise awareness and prevent potential fraud.

6. Enable Two-Factor Authentication (2FA): Enable 2FA for your WhatsApp account to add an extra layer of security to your messaging app.

7. Report Suspicious Activity: If you encounter suspicious activity on WhatsApp, report it to the platform and warn your contacts about potential scams.

In summary, it’s essential to remain informed about the different methods that bad actors use to defraud people online, especially on WhatsApp.  When you are aware of the possible techniques bad actors might use, such as unsolicited messages from unknown contacts, requests for personal information or financial transactions, and offers that seem too good to be true, you can avoid falling victim and protect yourself, your business, and your personal data. 

Published by Faith Uzezi Osemedo

Analyst, Risk Operations