WhatsApp scams: Gold, free money, spying apps and everything else you should worry about

Using WhatsApp is mostly safe. But here’s how to avoid the people who want to make it otherwise

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The Independent Tech

Almost everybody uses WhatsApp. That’s what makes it so useful – but it’s also what makes it so dangerous.

As WhatsApp and other chat apps have grown, they’ve also picked up their unfair share of scams. They come in many different forms, and are often very convincing.

But the advice for steering clear and staying safe is the same as it is everywhere else on the internet, really. Just make sure that you stay vigilant and don’t fall for anything that seems too good or too worrying to be true.

Here’s some of the things you should be looking out for.

Voucher scams

This is a tale at least as old as text messages. But it’s lived on into the WhatsApp age and is showing no sign of dying.

It works like this: a message arrives in your WhatsApp from someone who looks like your friend, recommending a deal they’ve found. The deal will usually be good – a voucher for £100 off at Sainsbury’s or TopShop, for instance, usually justified by the fact that the company is changing one of its systems or something.

But it’s barely ever real. The messages usually come with a link that actually takes you to another website and tricks you into giving your personal information over.

Staying safe from these is fairly simple: don’t ever click a link you’re not sure about and certainly don’t ever hand over personal information to a website you haven’t checked.

WhatsApp ending

Other fake messages claim that WhatsApp is going to end, unless enough people share a certain message. It isn’t happening.

The messages often look convincing, claiming to come from the CEO or another official. And they’re written using the right words and phrases, looking like an official statement.

But any official statement wouldn’t need users to send it to everyone like a round robin. If WhatsApp does actually shut down, you’ll either see it in the news or it’ll come up as a proper notification in the app from the actual WhatsApp team.

Or it’s shutting down your account

This is very similar – and a similarly old trick. They will usually say something that looks like an official message that claims that people’s WhatsApp accounts are being shut down for being out of use. Sending the message on will prove that it’s actually being used and 

It’s not true. This is the kind of thing that’s been going round the internet for years – and has never actually been the case.

It works very well because it feels like the kind of thing that might happen, and instructs people to share it along.

Or making you pay

This, again, is the same. The only difference is that the message supposedly exempts you from having to pay for your account. It doesn’t, because the company isn’t ever going to force people to pay (and, if it does, it’ll announce it in the normal way).

As with all of these, ignore them and don’t forward them on.

WhatsApp Gold or WhatsApp Premium

This, unlike the other scams, is specific to WhatsApp. But it’s just as wrong.

The claim suggests that people pay for or download a special version of WhatsApp, usually called Gold or Premium. It offers a range of exciting-sounding features, like the ability to send more pictures, use new emoji or add extra security features.

The problem is that it’s far from secure – and is actually entirely made up. Downloading the app infects people’s phones with malware and helps them get used for crime. And sometimes it will force people to pay for something that not only is dangerous, but certainly won’t actually help make WhatsApp any better at all.

Emails from WhatsApp

Emails are dodgy enough. Emails plus WhatsApp are even dodgier.

There’s a range of scams out there that send people emails that look like they’ve come from WhatsApp, usually looking like a notification for a missed voice call or voicemail. But when people click through, they end up getting scammed – either by being tricked into giving over their information or through other means.

Don’t ever click on an email from a questionable sender. And WhatsApp will never send you emails including information about missed calls or voicemails.

Any you do get should be ignored and send to the junk.

Fake WhatsApp spying apps

It’s just not possible to let people spy on other’s conversations on WhatsApp – or at least it shouldn’t be – because the company has end-to-end encryption enabled, which makes sure that messages can only be read by the phones that send and receive them. But the possibility of reading other people’s chats seems very exciting – so exciting that it’s being used for scams.

The apps at their best encourage people to download something that isn’t actually real. At their worst they encourage people to pay money for fake users, install malware, or actually do read your chats once they’ve got onto your phone.

You won’t be able to read anyone else’s chats, unless you actually have their phone. But the makers of spy apps might be able to read yours.

Intruders on your conversations

And this isn’t so much a hoax as a continual worry. WhatsApp is in fact a very secure platform – that’s why many of these things come as messages rather than viruses or anything else – but there are issues.

WhatsApp encryption in 60 seconds

Last month, when Amnesty said that the app was the safest chat app, security experts rushed to point out that there is actually a range of security problems. Those include the fact that the company is getting increasingly trigger happy about handing data over to its users, and also that its encryption can be got around in various ways.

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