WhatsApp scams (with pictures): How to protect yourself from the latest threats

Privacy news
19 mins

Imagine getting an urgent voice note on WhatsApp from an unknown number. You listen to it and hear that it’s from someone you care about, saying their phone was stolen and they need money right away. It might be your kid at college, your partner stuck without gas, or even your boss asking for a quick wire transfer.

Without hesitation, you send them the money. You heard their voice, after all. The only problem? The person on the other line isn’t actually someone you know. It’s a scammer using deepfake voice technology to make it sound like someone you trust.

AI voice cloning cons are just one of the latest scams on WhatsApp that are swindling millions of innocent victims out of their hard-earned cash. From fake prizes and cryptocurrency hoaxes to counterfeit romances and bogus job offers, the number of deceptive tactics scammers are using on the messaging app is on the rise. 

Read more: Is WhatsApp safe?

To avoid becoming a WhatsApp scam victim, awareness is key. Keep reading to discover the latest scams on the messaging platform, as well as simple tips to keep you and your loved ones safe from these sneaky cons. 

Here’s to making our online chats safer!

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What are WhatsApp scams?
Avoid these 15 WhatsApp scams:

How to protect yourself from WhatsApp scams
What to do if you’ve been scammed on WhatsApp

What are WhatsApp scams?

WhatsApp scams are deceptive schemes originating on the messaging app WhatsApp that are designed to trick users into revealing personal information, sending money, or installing malware on their devices. The platform’s extensive user base of over 2 billion provides scammers with a wide reach to potential victims. 

Why do scammers use WhatsApp?

Creating an account on WhatsApp is simple, and the accessibility through WhatsApp Web—which allows you to chat in a computer browser rather than through a mobile app—enables scammers to manage multiple fraudulent profiles and automate their schemes. The app’s minimal registration requirements also grant anonymity to scammers, allowing them to operate discreetly. 

End-to-end encryption: A double-edged sword

WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption ensures the security of messages, preventing unauthorized access. But this same encryption allows scammers to operate under cover. They’ve devised methods to avoid providing their actual phone numbers during registration, ensuring complete anonymity.

Main objectives of WhatsApp scams

WhatsApp scams primarily aim to achieve three things:

  1. Stealing money or cryptocurrency: Scammers exploit emotions like sympathy or urgency, convincing victims to send funds for supposed immediate needs.
  2. Obtaining personally identifiable information: Sensitive data such as social security numbers, bank details, or passwords are sought for identity theft or financial fraud.
  3. Distributing malware: WhatsApp’s media-sharing capabilities are exploited to disseminate malware. Once installed, it can compromise security, steal data, or render the victim’s device inoperable.

Common scamming techniques

WhatsApp scammers often masquerade as familiar contacts or well-known entities, such as credit card companies or government agencies. They excel at creating a sense of urgency, claiming immediate action is needed to avoid unpleasant consequences. Typical techniques include alarming messages about a loved one in danger or requests to update billing information to avoid fees.

Adaptability to trends

Scammers are masters at adapting to current events and trends, ensuring their schemes remain effective. For example, during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, they sent fraudulent WhatsApp messages offering bogus cures and tests.

Read more: WhatsApp vs. Signal: Which is more secure?

15 latest WhatsApp scams to know and avoid 

Here are the latest scams circulating on WhatsApp that you should be aware of:

1. Verification code scams

Scammers will send you a text message or message via WhatsApp directly, claiming to be from WhatsApp support and asking you to verify your account. They may provide you with a link or a code to enter. If you click the link, you could be taken to a malicious website or app that could steal your personal information or infect your device with malware. If you send them a verification code, the scammer could gain access to your WhatsApp account. 

Credit: Reddit

🚩Red flags 

  • The message comes from an unknown number.
  • The message contains a link or a code.
  • The message is poorly written or contains grammatical errors—although this sign is less prevalent now that scammers can use generative AI to improve their messages.

2. Random stranger verification code scams

The random stranger version of the WhatsApp verification code scam is a type of phishing scam in which a scammer tries to trick the victim into giving them their WhatsApp verification code. They do this by trying to log into your WhatsApp account on another device and triggering a verification code to be sent to your phone number. 

Credit: X (Twitter)

They will then contact you and claim that they accidentally sent you their verification code, asking you to send it back to them, hoping you won’t notice that the code is for your account. If you send them the code, the scammer will be able to log into your WhatsApp account and take control of it.

🚩Red flags

  • A message from someone saying they accidentally sent you their verification code.
  • A request to send the verification code back.
  • A sense of urgency or threat.
  • Poor writing or grammar errors.
  • An unknown phone number.
  • A profile picture of someone you don’t know.

3. WhatsApp crypto scams

Scammers will send you a WhatsApp message claiming to be from a cryptocurrency exchange or investment company. They may offer you high returns on your investment or promise to help you get started in the crypto market. However, if you send them money, you’ll likely never see it again.

Credit: Quora

🚩Red flags 

  • The message mentions cryptocurrency 
  • Too good to be true; promise of financial gains that sound easy

4. WhatsApp romance (catfishing) scams

Romance scammers often create fake profiles on dating apps like Tinder, pretending to be someone they’re not. On WhatsApp, someone might reach out to you randomly, pretending they got the wrong number. Then they’ll build a relationship with you, and then ask you for money down the line, either to help them with a financial emergency or to invest in a business venture.

Credit: Reddit

🚩Red flags 

  • The person “love bombs” you, saying they have feelings for you quickly and that they can see a future with you.
  • The person asks for personal information, such as your address, phone number, or financial information.
  • The person asks for money suddenly, for something seemingly urgent, promising to pay you back. 
  • The person refuses to meet in person or via video chat. 

5. Impersonation scams

Scammers will send you a WhatsApp message claiming to be from someone you know, such as a family member, friend, or co-worker. They usually say that they’ve lost their phone or that they are in trouble and need your help. They may ask you for money or other personal information. 

Credit: Facebook

AI voice scams fall into the category of WhatsApp impersonation scams, but they’re more advanced and convincing as criminals use AI to create deepfake voice recordings of people you know. They do this by recording a voicemail, phone call, or by taking a short clip of the person speaking, usually from a video on social media. They will then use these recordings to trick you into wiring them funds.

This is what an audio deepfake sounds like. 

🚩Red flags

  • The message comes from an unknown number.
  • The message is written differently from how the person usually writes.
  • The person is asking for money or personal information.
  • The person refuses to talk on the phone or video chat.
  • You receive a voice note from someone you know, but their voice sounds slightly different.
  • The person refuses to talk on the phone directly, only communicating via voice notes. 

6. Lottery and giveaway scams

Cybercriminals will send you a message claiming that you’ve won a giveaway, or urging you to participate in one—this is usually accompanied by a link, asking you to open it to “claim” your prize. Once you follow the link, you’ll usually be prompted to enter your personal information, such as bank details or your home address, so you can pay for the delivery of your prize. 

Credit: Reddit

Another variation of the scam involves enticing you to purchase lottery tickets. When you provide your credit card details for payment, the scammer records them with the intent of using them for credit card fraud or selling them on the dark web

🚩Red flags

  • The message comes from an unknown number.
  • You’ve never entered the lottery or a specific giveaway.
  • The message includes a suspicious, unsecured link
  • The message asks for you to pay a fee to claim your prize.
  • The message asks for your personal information.

7. Gift card scams

Similar to giveaway scams, criminals also use WhatsApp for gift card scams. They’ll send you a seemingly genuine WhatsApp message, supposedly about a reputable company, offering a free gift card with a link to claim it. However, the link actually leads to a dangerous website, and clicking on it could result in malware being installed on your device. Also, be cautious if you’re asked for personal information to ‘claim’ your gift card. In reality, you could be giving sensitive information directly to a scammer.

Credit: X (Twitter)

🚩Red flags

  • The message comes from an unknown number. 
  • The gift card is free and claims to be for a genuine store. 
  • The message asks you to click on a link or enter personal details to claim your gift card.

8. QR code scams

Scammers will send you a message with a QR code, asking you to scan it to receive a prize, access a special offer, or download a new app. However, if you scan the QR code, you’ll likely be taken to a malicious website or app that could steal your personal information that they can use for identity theft or to access your bank account.

Credit: Reddit

🚩Red flags

  • The message comes from an unknown number.
  • The message asks you to scan a QR code for a prize or special offer that you’ve not entered into.
  • The message asks you to scan a QR code to download an app from an unknown source.

9. Wrong number scams

WhatsApp wrong number scams often involve elaborate social engineering tactics, known as pig butchering scams. They usually kick off with a message from an unfamiliar number, where they introduce themselves or their business. Then, they claim they contacted you by mistake, entering your number instead of the person they were meant to contact. 

Credit: Facebook

Similar to other phishing scams, the ultimate aim of a wrong number scam is to pilfer your personal information or swindle you out of money. The scammer initiates contact, weaving a seemingly casual conversation, and eventually gets you to invest in their dodgy business venture or cryptocurrency trading platform.

🚩Red flags

  • The sender admits that they sent the message by mistake.
  • The sender tries to start a conversation with you.
  • The sender asks you for personal information or to invest in their business/trading platform.

10. Call forwarding scams

WhatsApp call forwarding scams are a type of vishing scam that targets WhatsApp users. The scammer calls the victim and poses as a customer service representative from WhatsApp or another company, and convinces them that they need to call a specific number to resolve a problem with their WhatsApp account. The number that the scammer provides is a call forwarding number. When the victim calls the number, their calls are forwarded to the scammer’s phone.

Credit: Quora

While the victim is on the phone with the scammer, the scammer tries to sign into the victim’s WhatsApp account. WhatsApp sends an OTP to the victim’s phone number to verify their identity. Since the victim’s calls are being forwarded to the scammer’s phone, the scammer receives the OTP. The scammer enters the OTP into WhatsApp and logs in to the victim’s account, gaining access to it. 

🚩Red flags

  • Someone calls you out of the blue and asks you to call a specific number to resolve a problem with your WhatsApp account.
  • The person who calls you claims to be from WhatsApp or another company.
  • The person who calls you sounds pushy or urgent and tries to pressure you into calling the number right away.
  • The number that the person provides is a strange or unfamiliar number.
  • You receive an OTP from WhatsApp, but you didn’t initiate a login attempt.

11. WhatsApp job offer scam

This is a con where scammers will send you a message offering you a job out of the blue. They may say that the job is easy and that you can earn a lot of money in a hurry, or that it’s based in an exciting new country with lots of prospects. However, they’ll ask you to pay a fee or to provide personal information in order for you to get the job, then disappear.

Credit: Facebook

🚩Red flags

  • The message comes from an unknown number and the sender doesn’t greet you by name.
  • The message offers you the promise of a job without asking you any questions about your qualifications or experience.
  • The job itself is kept extremely vague.
  • The message asks you to pay a fee or to provide personal information in order to get the job.
  • The message is poorly written or contains grammatical errors.

12. WhatsApp Gold scams

This is when scammers will send you a smishing text claiming that there is a new version of WhatsApp called WhatsApp Gold. They will say that WhatsApp Gold has more features and is more secure than WhatsApp. However, the link in the message will take you to a spoofed website that could steal your personal information or infect your device with malware.

Credit: Reddit

🚩Red flags

  • The message is from a random person and an unknown number.
  • The message claims that there is a new, elite version of WhatsApp called WhatsApp Gold, or something similar.
  • The message asks you to click on a link to activate or download WhatsApp Gold.

13. Charity scams

Scammers often try to trick their victims by claiming they’re from a charity or representing a noteworthy cause that’s recently made headlines. For example, they might message you randomly, claiming to be collecting funds for cancer research or to aid the victims of recent events like the Moroccan earthquake, the conflict in Ukraine, or the floods in Libya. However, it’s unlikely that your donation will ever actually go to the charity. 

If you want to support such causes, research to seek out reputable charities and donate to them directly rather than following any links sent to you randomly.

Credit: YouTube

🚩Red flags

  • The message comes from an unknown number.
  • The message asks you to donate money to a charity you have never heard of, or a cause that’s recently made headlines like a natural disaster or war. 
  • The message doesn’t provide any information about how the money will be used.
  • The message asks you to click a link so you can pay a fee to donate money.

14. “Complete this survey” scam

As the name suggests, these types of ploys see scammers contact individuals, claiming to be conducting a survey. They may assert that the survey pertains to their WhatsApp usage or even offer monetary rewards for participation. In reality, these scams are designed to collect personal information and, in some cases, the scammer may attempt to bribe individuals with cash incentives to ensure that they complete the questionnaire.

Credit: Reddit

Survey scams on WhatsApp can take many forms. Scammers may impersonate legitimate companies or organizations, or they may create their own fake brands. They may also use social engineering techniques to gain your trust, such as pretending to be a friend or family member.

Once you’ve completed the survey, the scammer may promise to send you your reward, but you’ll never receive it. Instead, they may use your personal information to commit identity theft, fraud, or other crimes.

🚩Red flags

  • The message comes from an unknown number, claiming to be a company of a well-known brand that you may or may not use.
  • The message asks you to complete a survey for money.
  • The message contains a link to a website that you do not recognize or asks you to hand over personal information.
  • The message is poorly written or contains grammatical errors.

15. e-commerce scams

WhatsApp e-commerce scams are a common type of fraud where scammers create fake websites or send phishing messages to steal personal information or credit card details. They often target people who are looking to purchase items on popular e-commerce platforms, such as Amazon, and eBay, or second-hand selling sites like Carousell.

One common tactic is to send a WhatsApp message with a link to a website that looks like a legitimate online store. However, when the victim clicks on the link and enters their personal information, the scammers steal it.

Another tactic is to coax the victim into shifting the conversation from the legitimate e-commerce platform to WhatsApp, where the scammers can continue their deceitful tactics. They may exploit the victim’s trust and vulnerability to dupe them into revealing sensitive information, making fraudulent payments, or feigning a prior payment. 

Credit: Reddit

For example, if a victim is selling an item on a site like Carousell—which does not have its own payment system and instead relies on users working out their own payment methods—the scammer might show a counterfeit receipt indicating they’ve sent the money and request the item be shipped to their “friend,” claiming that they’re currently out of the country. The seller believes the buyer and doesn’t verify that they’ve received the money. The seller sends the item, but the money is never reflected in the seller’s bank account. 

🚩Red flags

  • The message comes from an unknown number.
  • The message contains a link to a website that you don’t recognize.
  • The website is poorly designed or contains grammatical errors.
  • The website doesn’t have a secure connection (HTTPS).
  • The website asks for more personal information than is necessary to make a purchase.
  • A buyer or seller quickly moves the conversation to WhatsApp from a legitimate e-commerce site. 
  • The buyer asks you to ship the item to them as they’re abroad. 
  • The buyer sends digital proof of payment, saying it will only reflect in your bank account in a few days. 

Read more: 10 Signs a shopping website is fake 

8 ways to protect yourself from WhatsApp scams

As WhatsApp scams become increasingly sophisticated thanks to criminals using tools like AI, it’s become more important than ever to arm yourself with knowledge on how to stay safe. 

Here are 10 tips to help you protect your personal information and stay one step ahead of WhatsApp scammers:

1. Verify the sender

Always double-check the identity of the person contacting you. Reach out through a different platform or ask a personal question only the real person would know.

2. Ignore money requests

Trust your instincts and be wary of urgent requests for money. Legitimate requests are likely to come through multiple channels, not just WhatsApp.

3. Guard personal information

Never share sensitive details like passwords, bank information, or personal data over WhatsApp. Be cautious about what you disclose in your profile, and set your profile information to “contacts only”.

4. Keep software updated

Regularly update your device and WhatsApp to patch vulnerabilities and protect against potential exploits.

5. Exercise caution with links and attachments

Avoid clicking on unexpected links or downloading files. Be vigilant about phishing attempts, even from seemingly trusted sources.

6. Report suspicious activity

If you encounter a scam, report it to WhatsApp straight away. Take steps to block and report the scammer to prevent others from falling victim (more on this below).

7. Beware of unknown contacts

Don’t engage with messages or calls from unfamiliar numbers. Block and report any suspicious communication directly to WhatsApp. 

8. Set a WhatsApp PIN

You can set a PIN for WhatsApp that will be required to access your account. This will help you guard against fraud activity such as someone using your phone to send scam messages. 

What to do if you’ve been scammed on WhatsApp 

Even the most cautious individuals can fall victim to WhatsApp scams. If you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, there are important steps you can take to mitigate the damage and regain control of your accounts.

If you suspect you’ve been scammed on WhatsApp, follow these steps straight away:

1. Take screenshots of your communication

It’s helpful to keep a record of what happened.

2. Cut communication 

Refrain from responding to any further messages or calls from the scammer. Block their number. 

3. Report the scammer to WhatsApp

Swipe left on the chat with the scammer until you see the three dots with the word More, select Block +[the number], then Block and Report. On the Block page, select Spam or Other to notify WhatsApp about the fraudulent activity.

4. Report the scam to the police

While there’s no guarantee the police will be able to help you get your money back, it’s worth reporting the scam to them in case they know of other victims and have evidence that can help you.

4. Change your passwords and PINs

As an added precaution, change the passwords for all your online accounts, including WhatsApp. Ensure they are strong and unique.

5. Contact your bank or credit card company

If any financial information was shared with the scammer, promptly inform your bank or credit card company to report the fraud and take necessary actions.

6. Report the scam to authorities

If your details have been compromised, or you’ve been swindled out of a large sum of money, notify the relevant authorities, such as your local police department or the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), about the scam.

FAQ: About WhatsApp scams

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