How to Identify and Avoid Scams on WhatsApp

Rahul Sharma
Dolores Bernal
December 5, 2023
WhatsApp Scams

The days of landline calls and plain text messages are now a distant memory.

With the advent of social media and instant messaging apps, the way the world communicates has inherently transformed in recent years.

At the forefront of the change is WhatsApp, the instant messaging app that is now recognized worldwide. 

The popularity of WhatsApp is astounding, with over two billion people and five million businesses across 180 countries using it daily.

With support for over 60 languages and convenient features like voice and video calls, group chats, and file sharing, WhatsApp has become an inexorable part of our daily lives. 

On an average day, I will send and receive upwards of 50 communications on WhatsApp, and it is my preferred way to stay connected with family and friends.

While the convenience and charm of being able to connect with loved ones in seconds make WhatsApp such a popular app, there is a darker side to it.

Thanks to its popularity, WhatsApp is also a favorite with scammers and hackers, who exploit the massive reach of the platform and keep coming up with new, ingenious ways to scam unsuspecting people.

WhatsApp scams usually make news headlines. 

Stories of victims who’ve lost money and have had their personal information compromised have even scared some users to move to other, more secure platforms. Unfortunately, for most people, the ubiquity and popularity of WhatsApp means that it just cannot be avoided.

However, we can definitely stay safer if we learn about these scams, how they operate, warning signs, and how we can adopt certain simple habits and best practices to stay safe.

Let’s learn about the most common scams using WhatsApp and how you can protect yourself.

What are WhatsApp Scams?

WhatsApp allows users to message each other using both Android and iOS platforms. 

With WhatsApp, you can initiate text conversations, send audio messages, and start audio or video calls. WhatsApp also allows you to share images, audio files, and documents with ease.

The communication takes place entirely using an Internet connection on your phone (through mobile data or Wi-Fi). WhatsApp also has several security and privacy-focused features, including end-to-end encryption on both your messages and backups.

However, since it is a platform for communication, this gives scammers a wide array of creative options when leveraging WhatsApp for personal gain. 

More traditional scams that involved threat actors sending phishing emails and attachments, or calling users with fake offers have all received new life thanks to the nefarious use of WhatsApp and its features. 

In fact, WhatsApp has also recently started an integrated payment service in certain countries, which broadens the scope for scammers or fraudsters even further.


7 Common Types of WhatsApp Scams

Here is a detailed breakdown of the most common WhatsApp scams so that you remain aware and alert.

  1. Fake News Scams
  2. Lottery or Sweepstakes Scams
  3. WhatsApp Phishing Scams
  4. Verification Code Scams
  5. Call Forwarding Scams
  6. WhatsApp Gold Scams
  7. Impersonation Scams

1. Fake News Scams

What is it? Viral news stories are extremely attractive to a large section of WhatsApp users, especially when it comes to critical current events and the world of stars and celebrities. Get-rich-quick schemes and doomsday scenarios also generate a lot of interest, often eliciting an excitement or panic response on the part of users and making them more vulnerable to manipulation. This allows scammers or hackers to cajole users into clicking malicious links, sharing personal information, or sending money. 

How to Spot It: If you suddenly start receiving unsolicited messages from unknown numbers regarding celebrity death hoaxes, investment opportunities, or deadly illnesses, you should be wary. Specifically, keep an eye on messages that urge you to click a link, or send money to an investment opportunity. These messages may seem overly enticing, often taking the guise of urgent or time-sensitive opportunities.

How to avoid it: Exercise healthy skepticism at all times. Unless a message is definitely from someone you can trust, do not share any personal information, send any money, or click any links. Look out for information that falls apart under even a little scrutiny. If you have experienced such a scam or fraud, alert people in your contact list and consider contacting local authorities.

2. Lottery or Sweepstakes Scams

What is it? Winning a lottery or sweepstakes is a sudden financial windfall of epic proportions and, as a result, a really exciting prospect for most people. This is why it is a pet trick of many scammers to convince people that they have won a lottery in an attempt to elicit information or money. The most common modus operandi of scammers running this scam is to ask you to pay a fee to “release your winnings.” However, they might also ask you to share personal information or spread the news to people in your contacts.

How to spot it: Have you recently played or entered a lottery? If not, then it is easy to spot this scam. These scam messages can often sound too good to be true because they are! Watch out for demands of monetary fees or requests for personal information like name, address, and bank account details.

How to avoid it: Avoid clicking any links in these messages and do not send any money. If you did enter a lottery or contest of any kind, contact the organization running the event directly and do not rely on WhatsApp messages. Do not share any private information, especially financial in nature. You can also use WhatsApp’s reporting feature to report the sender for spam.

3. WhatsApp Phishing Scams

What is it? These scams can sometimes be the most difficult to detect because they are built on giving the impression of legitimacy from the very outset. Phishing is a very old trick where scammers or hackers try to fully replicate a legitimate website and direct you to it with the sole intent of either stealing your personal or financial information or getting you to make a payment and steal your money. These scams also often rely on using pressure or scare tactics to force you into completing an action.

How to spot it: If you receive a message from an unknown contact telling you that you need to complete an action to prevent the suspension of your WhatsApp account or make a payment to prevent your bank accounts from being closed, you are likely encountering a phishing scam. Similarly, if you receive a message that claims to take you to your bank’s website, you need to be very careful before clicking any links.

How to avoid it: Refrain from clicking links that do not lead to the official domain of the company you are supposed to be dealing with. If you have to verify the identity of the sender of the message, search for the official website of the company the scammer is claiming to represent and call them directly. You can also check if the messages you are receiving are coming from the official business WhatsApp account of the company in question.

4. WhatsApp Verification Code Scams

What is it? These scams can take many different forms and might seem fairly innocuous. Typically, the goal of the scammer is to get you to send them the WhatsApp verification code that usually comes as a text message to your phone when setting up your WhatsApp account. Anyone in possession of a fresh verification message will be able to take control of your WhatsApp account and use it for nefarious purposes. They can get hold of your information or send messages to other people in your contact list.

How to spot it: The essence of the scam is that you receive your WhatsApp verification code through text message and the scammer tries to get you to share it with them. One method involves you getting a message from someone claiming to be from WhatsApp tech support who insists the code is required for them to fix a problem in your accounts. However, far more concerning are instances when you get a message from someone claiming to be your friend, acquaintance, or relative claiming that they sent their own code to your phone number by mistake. Links appearing to lead to the WhatsApp website might also be used for this scam.

How to avoid it: While you should always be skeptical of messages asking for anything coming from unknown numbers, the best way to deal with this scam is to never send any WhatsApp verification code that comes to your phone via text to anyone. If you have not requested a WhatsApp verification code yourself, simply ignore or delete the message and do not respond to any WhatsApp communication about it. It’s also a good idea to immediately block and report the scammer if you receive communication that you can tell is from a scammer.

5. WhatsApp Call Forwarding Scams

What is it? Another way for scammers to take control of your WhatsApp account is to request the verification code over a phone call instead of text. To do this, they will typically call or message you, usually with an official tone, and get you to set up call forwarding on your phone number. Once call forwarding is activated, they can request the code via call and receive the call on their end, using the activation code to take control of your accounts.

How to spot it: Watch out for any communication on WhatsApp that requests you to call a a phone number, usually an MMI code that begins with a “*” character and ends with a “#”. These are used by your cellular provider to initiate phone-related services, in this case setting up a call forward to the scammer’s number. Any such request should alert you regarding the scammer’s intentions.

How to avoid it: Avoiding this scam is simple – do not dial any phone number based on the request of a stranger. It is also a good idea to nip the problem in the bud and refuse to accept any calls from unknown numbers in the first place. If you do fall victim to the scam and accidentally set up call forwarding, immediately take back control by looking up the MMI code to disable call forwarding for your cellular provider and dialing it in. You can also call your cell phone provider’s helpline and request help to turn off call forwarding. If you think your WhatsApp account has already been compromised, request a fresh verification code from your phone and set it up again.

6. WhatsApp Gold Scams

What is it? This is an old technique scammers use to capitalize on the reliance of many users on the WhatsApp platform. WhatsApp Gold is a fictional product, much like the premium versions of other products, that claims to provide additional features and better services on WhatsApp. For regular users who depend on the platform, this might seem to be a lucrative deal. By luring you into “signing up” for this fictional premium product, scammers can steal your data or download a virus on your device.

How to spot it: This scam usually takes the form of an unknown number messaging you talking about the WhatsApp Gold service, talking about the expected features and benefits, and asking you to sign up. Once you click on the link, malware gets installed on your phone and steals your data. Ingenious scammers have, in the past, even embedded this code into interesting-looking videos for you to download and share.

How to avoid it: Be aware that there is no paid WhatsApp version and any communication promising it is a sure scam. Do not click any links on such messages and block the contact immediately. Also, it can be a good idea to go into your WhatsApp settings and disable the automatic downloading of videos so that you can confine that to trusted contacts only. Do not forward any such message to your contacts as this leaves them vulnerable to the scam as well.

✎ Related: Identity Theft Using Links ➔

7. Impersonation Scams

What is it? These scams are meant to target vulnerable users into sharing information or making payments using clever social engineering. Here, the scammer will impersonate someone you love, usually a child, parent, or friend, and advance the notion that their device has been lost or damaged and they are communicating with you from a new number. From there, they can either ask you for a WhatsApp verification code sent to your number or ask for emergency funds to take care of their supposed issues. In many cases, these attacks can also leave your mobile banking app vulnerable, making this a truly powerful attack with possibly dire consequences.

How to spot it: The first steps of this scam involve you receiving a message, seemingly from someone close. Older users such as grandparents are most vulnerable to this, as the scammer would often impersonate a grandchild in distress. They will then claim to need money for an emergency payment or tell you that they have lost their primary device and need you to help regain control of their bank account. By manipulating the user in this way, the scammer can induce them to make a fund transfer or take control of their mobile banking apps.

How to avoid it: Whenever you receive such a message from someone claiming to know you, directly contact them to verify their identity first. Do not transfer any funds at the request of unknown numbers and do not share any banking details. If the scammer tries to impersonate a child or parent, call their actual number to verify the story.

How To Avoid and Report Scammers on WhatsApp?

A convenient messaging platform like WhatsApp definitely makes it easier to keep in touch with family and friends. 

You do not have to give up that convenience out of the fear of being scammed. Raising awareness, adopting certain basic precautions, and integrating them into your habits from the very outset can help you stay protected.

Take these prevention principles as gospel and integrate them into your habits whenever using WhatsApp.

1. Avoid Links Like the Plague

In most cases, the main weapon scammers use is a malicious link. For many of us, clicking on links has become a matter of habit. This is the first thing to unlearn if you want to stay safe while using WhatsApp.

Do not click any links you receive on WhatsApp without careful scrutiny, especially if it comes from an unknown number. If a link comes with a bold claim, like winning “free money” or a trip, or a threat like suspending your bank account, the best course of action is to delete the message immediately and avoid clicking on the links at all costs.

If the scammer is impersonating someone you know, contact them directly and verify. If the link professes to have something to do with your bank, go directly to your bank’s website instead and check for issues.

2. Secure Your WhatsApp Account

A lot of the scams mentioned here operate with the criminals taking control of your WhatsApp account, potentially compromising your password. To protect your account, an easy way is to activate two-step verification for WhatsApp. This associates a six-digit PIN code with your account, and you can also specify a secure email address to reset the protection if the need arises.

3. Block and Report

Instead of simply deleting scam messages, you can choose to immediately block and report the contact. This protects you from further hassle from the same number and also initiates an inquiry from WhatsApp into the account. 

Get Identity Theft Protection

With cybercriminals getting more resourceful by the day, one good way to keep yourself safe is to consider getting an identity theft protection service, such as Aura, IdentityGuard, or IDShield.

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Identity theft protection provides multiple layers of safeguards that can keep you reasonably protected if you do fall victim to fraud. 

These services help protect your personal and sensitive information, keep your banking and financial data safe, and alert you when you have fallen victim to a breach or if something is suspicious.

With these precautions, you should be able to communicate with your loved ones using WhatsApp while having that much-needed peace of mind.

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