WhatsApp is the most used social messaging platform in the world with over 1.5 billion monthly active users. The app is particularly popular in the emerging markets like India and its popularity also comes with its own risks. The Facebook-owned messaging platform has been affected with a number of scam and fraudulent messages that aim to siphon off money from WhatsApp users in the country.
Over the last few weeks alone, we have seen fraudulent messages promoting free air tickets, Ayushmaan Bharat registration, and WhatsApp Gold updates trying to trick users on the platform. These messages aim to hack people’s smartphone, and then steal money from them. The common theme of these messages is the links in them which install malware in user’s smartphone when clicked. Here is a look at all the WhatsApp messages that aim to trick users and ways in which you can protect yourself from falling prey to these mechanism:
Free Air Tickets on WhatsApp
A number of WhatsApp users have reported getting messages that claim airlines are giving out free tickets. These messages come with a link similar to that of the website attached to airlines offering these tickets. One such message doing the rounds is linked to Singapore Airlines, where it claims to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the company.
WhatsApp Gold became a new trend in the country when users started receiving messages urging them to download an update for the application. In reality, this was a malware that could attack over 200 million users in the country. Some researchers say that this is caused by lack of app protocols on the Google Play Store. The open source nature has also been blamed for the lack of security within applications.
“An open philosophy and relaxed app submission protocols have resulted in a host of malicious applications being hosted on the Google Play store. While an open philosophy is a great step to encourage budding programmers, it also renders the platform and its users vulnerable to installing fraudulent apps, exposing the consumer to data theft and proliferation of user information,” Venkat Krishnapur, Vice President of Engineering and Managing Director, McAfee India said about the message.
Ayushmaan Bharat registration on WhatsApp
Another mechanism used to steal money or information from WhatsApp users is to lure them to enroll for Ayushmaan Bharat scheme on the messaging platform. The Ayushmaan Bharat scheme is the National Health Protection Scheme that covers over 10 crore poor and vulnerable families in the country and provides coverage up to Rs 5 lakh per family per year. The state governments register the beneficiary themselves in this scheme but messages on the platform seem to be asking non-suspecting users to register to get the free treatment coverage of up to Rs 5 lakh.
— Devashish Sharma (@DevaSpeaks) 13 January 2019
The message comes with a link which masks the registration and actually leads to installation of malware on the target device. There is no word from government as to how it plans to tackle the issue. WhatsApp being an end-to-end encrypted messaging service makes it difficult for the Facebook-owned company to limit selective messages.
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Other types of scam messages
WhatsApp has been used to lure users to click on fake links by offering them free Paytm cash on the platform. One such message making the rounds asks WhatsApp users to answer four questions by clicking on a link promising Rs 1,000 Paytm cash. This only allows the attacker to extract data from your device and those who use WhatsApp need to be extra cautious about such messages being sent on the platform. There are also messages promising smartphones from leading brands at unbelievable prices.