The popular messaging service WhatsApp has an estimated two billion-plus users across 180 countries, making it one of the world's most popular apps. So it’s no surprise that scammers use the Meta-owned platform to try to steal personal and financial data.
These scams evolve constantly, making some of them hard to spot — but there are a few tell-tale signs that you should look for.
Keep reading to find out more about WhatsApp scams and how to avoid them.
Can people scam you on WhatsApp?
WhatsApp's end-to-end encryption makes it a relatively secure messaging service that can prevent hackers from reading your conversations. But WhatsApp users are still at risk for other types of scams.
Why do scammers use WhatsApp?
While WhatsApp’s encryption is what makes it attractive to people looking for a secure messaging app, it’s also a feature that draws scammers. If you’re carrying out illicit activities through texts, you wouldn’t want anyone other than the victim to have access to them. Moreover, scammers have developed methods to avoid having to provide their actual phone numbers when registering to WhatsApp, giving them complete anonymity.
How do scammers use WhatsApp?
WhatsApp scammers often pose as someone you know or a well-known entity, like a credit card company or government agency. They’re usually pretty good at creating a sense of urgency, claiming that an immediate response is required to avoid an unpleasant outcome.
Common scamming techniques include texts saying a loved one is in imminent danger or that you need to update an account's billing information to avoid fees. However, fraudsters constantly design new methods to align with recent national events. For example, during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, many people received texts with offers for bogus cures and tests.
Common types of scams on WhatsApp
Some of the most common types of WhatsApp scams include:
Verification code scams
Some scammers won’t target your personal data directly and instead will try to get access to your WhatsApp account. They do this by sending you a text that appears to be from the WhatsApp support team, saying that your account will be deactivated if you don’t provide them with the verification code WhatsApp sent you.
WhatsApp crypto scams
Cryptocurrency scams are trending and involve crooks pretending to be finance experts that offer too-good-to-be-true investment opportunities. They might also advise you to move your existing investment funds from a legitimate crypto exchange to a fraudulent one they control.
WhatsApp dating scams
Romance scams are especially prevalent on online dating sites like Tinder and eHarmony. However, once you get matched with someone through these dating services, the scammer might convince you to move the conversation over to WhatsApp.
On WhatsApp, the criminal may try to connect with you emotionally, sometimes professing their undying love and how they're willing to leave their current life behind to be with you. Then, they start asking for money with the excuse of needing financial help.
Impersonation scams, or family emergency scams, happen when someone contacts the victim pretending to be a relative. The scammer might say that their phone broke and that they're using a replacement or a friend's phone to explain why they’re calling from an unfamiliar number.
The impostor then asks for money to solve an emergency. For example, the person might say they need cash urgently because their wallet was stolen.
Targets of this scam receive a message “on behalf” of a lottery game saying that the victim has won a large sum of money. The catch is that they will ask you to provide your personal information in order to be able to receive your prize or will require you to pay a fee to process your winnings.
Gift card scams
The target receives a text informing them that they've won a gift card. They're then instructed to reply with personal details or to follow a link to claim their prize.
It's easy to spot these scams if the award notification is for a giveaway you didn't participate in or if you're asked for some form of payment. If you're unsure about the authenticity of a sweepstake, contact the brand directly through their website or social media to double-check.
Warning signs of WhatsApp scams
WhatsApp scams are increasingly becoming more sophisticated, so it can sometimes be difficult to spot them if you don't know exactly what to look out for. Luckily, most fraudsters use similar approaches.
Some signs of WhatsApp scams include:
- Unsolicited messages from unknown numbers. Do a quick Google search to verify that the number the message was sent from matches who they’re claiming to be. You might find that number is not associated with the company or agency that the sender claims to represent.
- Spelling and grammatical mistakes. Text messages from legitimate businesses (like banks) won't have any spelling errors. If you get a text that has errors and prompts you to take action on a personal account or follow a link, it's most likely fake.
- Urgent and high-pressure tactics. Fraudulent texts are often alarming and claim to be urgent, stating your accounts are blocked, or that a government agency is taking legal action against you.
- Links to suspicious websites. Spammers can use links to hack your device or lead you to a fake site designed to snatch your data. Beware of links from numbers you don't recognize or that lead to websites you never visit. Some links might look familiar, but if you look carefully, they often contain spelling mistakes and extra letters or numbers.
- Offers that seem too good to be true. Some WhatsApp spam messages announce you've won a giveaway, even if you didn't participate in one, or that you’ve unlocked a special offer just for you. You may be asked to share personal information to claim your offer or prize, or to click a link for more details.
Although not as common, some scammers might also call you through WhatsApp. It’s best not to answer phone calls from numbers you don’t recognize. If you do answer, ask which institution they represent. You can then contact the company or agency to corroborate what the callers told you. If the caller threatens you with the safety of a loved one, call your loved one directly to make sure they’re safe.
Tips to avoid WhatsApp scams
Staying safe on WhatsApp starts by knowing how to recognize the most common types of scams. Below are some additional tips to help you avoid becoming a victim.
Verify the identity of the sender
Second-guess any supposed family members or acquaintances reaching out from new numbers. If the person claims they're someone you know, consider whether their writing matches their usual communication style. You can also ask the scammer a question only your relative or friend would know the answer to.
Don't disclose personal information
Never share bank account details or private information, like your Social Security number or date of birth. This also includes responding to WhatsApp messages asking you to share a verification code.
Avoid clicking on external links
Don't use any links or phone numbers provided in the text. If you’re unsure of whether it’s a legitimate site, search for the company or agency's official contact information online. Contact the supposed person or entity directly to assess the situation.
Enable two-factor authentication for your WhatsApp account
Set up two-factor authentication. This security measure prevents hackers from accessing your WhatsApp account if they try to open it from another mobile device.
Report suspicious messages and contacts
Report and block any conversations and users that are suspicious. It’s better to act swiftly and cut communication once you’ve identified a potential scam.
If you’re interested in learning more tips to stay safe from scams, be sure to read or guide on how to protect yourself online.
How to report a scammer on WhatsApp
When you report a WhatsApp message, artificial intelligence software and content moderators will analyze it.
The last five messages you received from the reported contact are reviewed for violations of WhatsApp’s Terms of Service, which forbid publishing deceitful messages or impersonating someone. If the company finds that the reported message violates the usage terms, the account that sent it is banned.
Reporting a scammer on WhatsApp is simple. Here's what you need to do:
- Open the chat of the user you want to report.
- Tap the three dots in the upper right corner.
- Select "More options" and then "More."
- A report option will appear at the bottom of the screen.
- Press "Report."
- A confirmation message will pop up.
- Check the option that says you'd like to block the user and delete the chat
- Tap "Report" again.
- Open the chat of the user you want to report.
- Tap the contact's name or phone number on the upper part of the screen.
- Scroll all the way down and select "Report."
- A pop-up message will appear asking if you'd like only to report the person or report and block simultaneously.
- Press the option you prefer.
WhatsApp Scams FAQ
Is WhatsApp safe?
Why do scammers use WhatsApp?
Can WhatsApp be hacked?
How to track a scammer on WhatsApp
How safe is WhatsApp video chat?
Summary of Money’s How to Spot and Avoid WhatsApp Scams
- WhatsApp is a popular messaging service that allows users to send encrypted messages. In recent years, cybercriminals have been using the app to scam people.
- Scammers often use WhatsApp to contact people and trick them into sending money or sharing their private information.
- Common WhatsApp scams involve fraudsters faking a family emergency or tricking victims into believing they’ve won a prize.
- There are several ways to steer clear of WhatsApp scams, such as being wary of messages from unknown numbers asking for money.
- If you think someone is attempting to scam you through WhatsApp, block and report them to the app.