Scammers are Impersonating WhatsApp Users to Siphon off Money From Their Friends; Here's How
WhatsApp has become an essential tool for communication at work, social interactions, and staying in touch with family and friends. But for a 42-year-old guy, a fake WhatsApp website revealed an insidious fraudulent scheme targeting users with sophisticated tactics. He works at a construction company. He was just searching for "WhatsApp Web" on Google and clicked on the first link, thinking it was the real deal. But turns out, it wasn't the official site. He ended up scanning a QR code on that site, and that let the scammers sneak into his account using their own devices.
How did he fall victim to impersonation scams?
Pretending to be the user, the scammers reached out to 10 of his colleagues, including his boss, urgently asking them to lend him thousands of dollars for a family emergency. One of his colleagues fell for it and quickly transferred $1,000 to a bank account that the scammers provided within just half an hour of the request. He didn't even check with the user, even though the scam messages were in English, not Malay, which is how they usually communicated.
The user who has been impersonated, expressed his concerns and stated how bad he felt about the entire incident, especially about his colleague, who has four young kids and lost money to the scam. Later he made it a point to repay the money due to the trust between them but he also expressed concerns regarding how disheartening the whole situation was.
How scammers operate on WhatsApp and the ripple effect
The scammers did their thing without their victim even realizing, because they hid the chats from him. They tucked away the conversations, so he couldn't see what was happening in his list of WhatsApp chats. He only found out about the scam a day later, when one of his colleagues, who got messages from the scammers, noticed that the way they talked didn't sound like the user in question. They gave him a heads-up, and he spread the word to everyone he knew. That's when he found out about the $1,000 loss.
The police put out warnings twice in the last month about these tricky "WhatsApp Web" links that lead to scams where people pretend to be someone else. Just from November 1 to 13, there were 93 victims, and they lost a total of $176,000 to these scams.
Another victim, similar case
One of those victims is a 37-year-old accountant, Ms. KY. She often uses "WhatsApp Web" for work. On November 1, she clicked on the first link she found on Google without realizing it was a trick. The first time she tried scanning the QR code on the fake site, it didn't work. But without thinking too much, she scanned it again. Little did she know, that the first scan gave the scammers access to her account.
The scammers waited patiently for three days before reaching out to two of Ms. KY's close friends, asking for money to help an "aunt" supposedly in the hospital. What's sneaky is that they used the nicknames Ms. KY usually calls her friends in WhatsApp chats. They even went so far as to upload a picture of a woman on a hospital gurney.
Worried that Ms. KY needed the money urgently, one of her long-time friends quickly sent $3,000 to the scammers. The scammers, just like before, covered their tracks well. Ms. KY only found out about the scam when she returned a missed call from her friend.
How can you protect yourself from such scams?
To protect against scams like these, the police suggest enabling two-step verification on WhatsApp accounts. They also recommend making sure you're using the official WhatsApp Web website (https://web.whatsapp.com) or desktop app. It's good to regularly check the devices linked to your WhatsApp and be cautious of strange requests you get on WhatsApp.
More from MARKETREALIST