How Are Scammers Using WhatsApp To Con People? Expert Explains
Cybersecurity expert Ritesh Bhatia explains the modus operandi behind WhatsApp calls and messages from international numbers that are offering people money.
Have you been receiving missed calls from international numbers on WhatsApp? Turns out, you are not alone. Several Twitter users, over the past few weeks, have shared screenshots of their WhatsApp call history that show numerous suspicious missed calls they have received.
The calls are coming from international numbers from various countries. According to their ISD codes, some of them are from Ethiopia (+251), Malaysia (+60), Indonesia (+62), Kenya (+254), Vietnam (+84), and other countries.
While some users blocked the suspicious numbers, the ones who responded were asked to carry out simple tasks — liking Instagram posts and Youtube videos — in lieu of money.
“I have been getting these calls for about a month now. I always report the numbers and instantly block them,” said Shantonil Nag, a Delhi-based journalist. On the other hand, Neville, a photographer from Mumbai played along with the scammer before finally blocking them.
Having known that it was a scam, Neville texted back saying, “The additional income would help boost my meager salary as a police inspector, so I'd send a constable over to discuss full details.” That was the last he heard from that number.
The scammers have been successful in luring certain people into the trap and duping them of huge amount of money. Recently, a 48-year-old woman from Mumbai lost nearly Rs 10 lakh to this scam, wherein the fraudster gave her a job of writing positive reviews of hotels and earning money, The Indian Express reported. In a similar case reported by the Hindustan Times, a Pune-based IT professional fell prey to an online scam that promised handsome earnings in exchange for posting positive comments on Google review.
BOOM spoke to a Mumbai-based cybersecurity expert, Ritesh Bhatia, to understand the modus operandi of the scam. Bhatia explained the sophisticated levels at which this scam is at play. He has been interacting with multiple scammers behind the scenes in order to get the gist of it.
Here are the edited excerpts from BOOM's interview with Bhatia.
How is this scam different from earlier ones?
Initially, scams were just limited to messages where a scammer pretended to be an HR from some organisation and offered around 8k-10k for work from home opportunities. In these kinds of scams, such messages were sent in bulk, not knowing which numbers were operational.
The recent scam is much more sophisticated in a way that they first check if the number is currently in use by giving a missed call via bots. After confirming the number is active, they send these messages.
Image Courtesy: Ritesh Bhatia (Accessed by BOOM)
What loopholes of WhatsApp are the scammers exploiting?
WhatsApp operates on a VoIP network, so users can make calls from any nation without incurring additional expenses. As a result of this, it has become easier for scammers to make international calls to gullible users. However, just because these calls start from a different country code does not mean that the origin of the call is actually that country.
Also, it is not very difficult to procure an international number. People can easily get it from a foreign country and use it here in India.
How does the scam work?
Once the scammers get the person to target, they provide them with links which are meant to be liked, it could either be a Youtube video or an Instagram post. After getting likes on atleast three such links, the person is given a code and asked to connect to “a receptionist” via Telegram.
The code is shared with the receptionist on Telegram, post which the person is asked to share their details like name, occupation, age and mobile number. Henceforth, bank details are asked for and within minutes Rs 150 (Rs 50 per like) is credited to the person. This way the scammer gains trust and now the person willingly signs up to be a part of a Telegram group where more such ‘tasks’ will be shared.
Image Courtesy: Ritesh Bhatia (Accessed by BOOM)
What happens on the Telegram group?
As a person becomes part of this group, they are given choices to put in their money in select packages. Say, in the first package, you will get back Rs 1300 if you give Rs 1000, Rs 2300 if you put in Rs 2000 and so on. In order to build up more trust, the person does get back this increased sum of money instantly.
The group then makes you eligible for more luring packages. Now the tasks are no longer pertaining to liking Youtube videos. The links will now take you to Cryptocurrency sites and stocks. As the person clicks and likes these pages, the sum of Rs 50,000 turns to Rs 71,000.
How long does this play out?
Actually, the real scam begins here. Even though it shows the person has earned Rs 71,000, the sum cannot be withdrawn. They are now asked to reach a target of 2 lakhs, wherein if a person invests 2 lakhs, the sum multiplies to 3.5 lakhs. The target keeps on increasing and the person is looped into a vicious circle where they can never actually withdraw the money.
Therefore, we can sum up the modus operandi as something which begins on the note of excitement leading on to building trust, followed by greed and ending up in helplessness.
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