If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
This should be the new motto of WhatsApp users in light of the discovery that scam messages have penetrated the popular messaging app.
These scams first came to light in October 2016. This was when many WhatsApp users in the UK reported that they were receiving messages telling them they could get a free gift card from several popular stores like Topshop, Sainsbury’s, and Marks and Spencer. The gift card offer varies in monetary value, with many stating £100 and some promising £250.
What makes these scams dangerous is that they seemingly come from users’ contacts. Many people ignore messages from unknown senders, but they’ll likely read a message that comes from a friend or a family member. The scams also use casual phrasing that make the messages sound like they’re really from somebody that the recipient knows. However, it’s important to know that this isn’t true in most cases; the messages are actually sent by cybercriminals, not the victim’s loved ones.
The scam messages mention a company and a gift card amount and claim that the company is offering free vouchers because it’s “expanding its store network”. The sender then says that he or she “got mine already” and urges the recipient to “grab a gift card while it lasts”.
To claim the gift card, the recipient is directed to a link that will supposedly lead to the store’s website. One scam message, for instance, directs users to sainsburys.com-ukgiftcards.com to claim their free Sainsbury’s gift voucher. This might look like a legitimate link at a glance but, upon closer inspection, it’s clear that it’s different from Sainsbury’s official website sainsburys.co.uk. This is the first clue that the given link is not as trustworthy as it seems.
According to PC Advisor, clicking on the link will lead the WhatsApp user to a page where they’re asked to take a survey. The survey contains personal questions, which inevitably will cause the user to reveal sensitive data about himself. Filling out the survey can then lead to data theft.
What You Need to Do
If you use WhatsApp and receive one of these scam messages, do not click on the link. Even if you don’t answer the survey, your smartphone can be automatically infected by malware when you get to the page. These malware can harvest your personal information or even give hackers a way to remotely take control of your device. Clicking on the link can also allow cybercriminals to install a browser extension and/or cookies that they could use to serve advertisements to users and earn revenues.
The best thing to do is to delete the message right away. Doing this ensures that you won’t accidentally click on the link and put your device and your sensitive information at risk. If you want to verify whether the offer is genuine or not, get in touch with the store in question and ask if they are really having a free gift card promotion.
Not the Only Scam
The team behind WhatsApp is aware about these scam messages, admitting that “it is possible for other WhatsApp users who have your phone number to contact you”. The only way to avoid getting victimized by these scams is to be vigilant and careful with you’re using WhatsApp and other apps as well.
These fake vouchers are not the only scams to have entered the WhatsApp world. One hoax claims that users can now sign up for WhatsApp Gold, which supposedly was used by celebrities but is now open for everyone. Opening the link in the invitation does not lead to WhatsApp Gold (which actually does not exist) but to a page that steals your information or adds malware in your device.