Over the years, technology has given scammers increasing opportunities to reach consumers. Phones have been used for decades, but in more recent years, email, text and social media have given fraud a faster way to reach targets. Now, scammers are discovering WhatsApp, a free communication platform popular for keeping in touch with friends and family in other countries.
WhatsApp scams can take many forms -- romance scams, investment scams or phishing scams -- but all start the same way. Victims receive a message from someone they don’t know. We surveyed staff members at BBB serving the Heart of Texas who use WhatsApp to get a sense of how it’s safely used.
Some BBB employees consider the app an important part of their daily lives. They use it regularly to communicate with family around the globe. When asked what countries they were communicating with, answers represented all continents except Antarctica. From Costa Rica to Senegal and Croatia to India, BBB employees communicate with people from many different lands. Unfortunately, this means more opportunity for more scammers to reach out from different places.
Another pattern we noticed among the survey answers was that employees using WhatsApp regularly (a few times a week or daily, rather than exclusively while traveling) were more likely to receive communication from scammers and unknown contacts. When we asked what they do to keep themselves safe, the answer was overwhelmingly simple: Don’t reply to unknown contacts. One employee offered another good piece of advice, saying she has her details shared with selected contacts rather than all her contacts.
Better Business Bureau also recommends blocking and reporting unknown senders. This not only prevents you from receiving more unwanted contacts, but also prompts WhatsApp to look into the account which could keep scammers from reaching other users.
If someone contacts you with investment or employment opportunities, always do your research and look for the company on bbb.org before doing business with them or providing any personal information. If someone tries to strike up a romantic relationship or close friendship, but avoids meeting in person, realize they could be after your money or personal information. Never give your address, banking information or Social Security number to someone you’ve never met in person.
Technology provides great opportunities, including ways to keep in touch with loved ones around the world, but it also creates opportunities for people looking to take advantage of you. Stay sharp to keep yourself safe from scammers, and you’ll be able to use these tools to the fullest.
Emily Gaines is the public relations coordinator with the Better Business Bureau in Austin.