Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the lights on at MakeUseOf. Read more.
WhatsApp is one of the biggest instant messaging apps in the world. And like with anything on the internet that has millions of users, scammers are targeting it. You need to know the common WhatsApp scams and how to protect yourself from them.
The scams come in various forms. Some of them pronounce themselves as public service announcements. Others are more malicious, and masquerade as official messages from the company.
Employing common sense tips to avoid malware is the first step. The second is to educate yourself so you know what’s real and what’s a scam.
Scam: WhatsApp Making Your Chats Public on Facebook
From October 1, WhatsApp is sharing your WhatsApp data with Facebook. A while ago, WhatsApp was bought by Facebook for $18 billion. A few months back, we saw the result of this acquisition when WhatsApp rolled out new Terms of Services (ToS) for users.
To sum it up, the ToS stated that WhatsApp will share your data with Facebook. The purpose of this is to help make your Facebook ads better. The good news is that you can stop WhatsApp handing over your data to Facebook by opting out of the updated ToS.
You still get to use WhatsApp as usual, but the fine print is important to read:
The Facebook family of companies will still receive and use this information for other purposes such as improving infrastructure and delivery systems, understanding how our services or theirs are used, securing systems, and fighting spam, abuse, or infringement activities.
This means your data is being shared anyway, just not to make Facebook ads better for you.
Having both Facebook and Whatsapp, but I don't want all my data to be shared to public. Just try to be reserved since it's a privacy issue ?
— Tony An's Candy? (@lia_iko) August 27, 2016
Now, while this isn’t good news, you may have received some alarming messages on WhatsApp about this. And those are spreading lies. Some messages claim that Facebook will make your chats publicly available. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, internet myth-busting champion Snopes had to write an article specifically debunking this lie.
The bottom line is that your data is still your own and it won’t be appearing on Facebook without your consent. You can opt out of sharing information on Facebook through WhatsApp’s guide.
Scam: WhatsApp Gold, a Premium Version of WhatsApp
Have you got an invitation to WhatsApp Gold, a premium version of WhatsApp purportedly used by celebrities? If yes, delete that message and don’t do anything it says. It’s a complete scam.
There is no alternate or premium version of WhatsApp. Everyone, including celebrities and the co-founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton, use the same app that you do.
WhatsApp Gold is supposed to have a bunch of new features you should check out. For example, WhatsApp Gold apparently lets you send more than 10 pictures at a time, and includes video calling too. WhatsApp is already testing video calling and it might be rolled out soon, but this is not the way you can get in on the action now.
Apart from “WhatsApp Gold”, this same scam also comes with other names like “WhatsApp Plus”, “WhatsApp Pro”, and “WhatsApp Star”. If you get an invitation to download any such version of WhatsApp, delete the message.
Scam: Your WhatsApp Has Expired, Pay to Renew
This is one of the oldest WhatsApp scams but it keeps circulating and claims more unsuspecting users than any other. You’ll get a message from an unknown number that says your WhatsApp has expired and you need to pay to renew it. This is a scam!
— HamZomboat! Jeetooa (@hamzajeetooa) September 28, 2016
WhatsApp is completely free and you should never believe any message asking you to pay for it. For proof, WhatsApp officially stated it’s free and will stay free forever.
Understandably, people wonder how a service like this can be completely free. But that’s WhatsApp’s headache, and it is in the process of monetizing its app through tie-ups with corporations. Right now, what you need to know is that WhatsApp does not, and will not, cost you a penny.
Scam: WhatsApp 4G and WhatsApp “Ultra Light Wi-Fi”
A new message doing the rounds these days starts off with the oldest trick of conmen: it says you’re special. Your phone is among the best, it claims, saying it supports a new “WhatsApp 4G” or “WhatsApp Ultra Light Wi-Fi” which will reduce data costs or make it completely free.
— Luis AbendNeuer (@LuisAbendNeuer) March 9, 2016
You are told to forward the message to 10 friends, and then visit a link at the bottom of the message. The link directs you to a website where you have to fill a short survey. And then nothing happens. Seems harmless, right? Wrong!
That survey you filled has some personal information about you, and you just granted hackers access to your IP address and other online details. This can lead to any number of scams, including something as serious as digital identity theft.
“Even after completing the surveys as requested, you will still not get to activate the promised ‘feature’. At this point, you may be urged to download other ‘free’ apps. But, these apps may contain malware of various types,” explains Hoax Slayer. “The scammers who create these campaigns earn commissions via dodgy affiliate marketing schemes each time somebody fills in a survey or downloads an app.”
How to Stay Safe From WhatsApp Scams
These aren’t the first scams to circulate on WhatsApp and they definitely won’t be the last. Thankfully, there are some tell-tale signs of frauds and fakes.
First of all, if you get a message from an unknown number, you should consider it to be fake. If the person identifies themselves as someone you know, double-check in whatever way you can. Otherwise, treat it as malicious. Remember, it’s just WhatsApp, if the person is serious, they can get in touch with you with a phone call or SMS too.
WhatsApp itself has laid out a few signs to watch out for. If you get a message that has any of the following attributes, consider it to be spam or malicious:
- 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 from WhatsApp or another person.
Which WhatsApp Scam Have You Seen?
Have you got a forward on WhatsApp that talked about any of the above scams? Have you been targetted by some other WhatsApp scam?
To address other concerns, take a look at how media file jacking impacts WhatsApp and Telegram on Android.
Remember, it goes beyond WhatsApp. Phone calls with those claiming to be from a service like Windows Tech Support can sound just as convincing.