"Think. Stop. Call" is the fundamental message behind WhatsApp's (FB) new scam awareness campaign, which aims to help the swathes of people who receive scam texts each day.
A message from a "friend in need" asking for money or personal information could be the first sign of a scam, the campaign, which launches in partnership with National Trading Standards, warned.
Message-based scams could include text messages as well as those received on WhatsApp.
Online scams have proliferated during the COVID pandemic amid a widespread shift to online shopping. Recent research has shown that reports of "smishing" attacks in the UK grew by more than 700% in the first six months of 2021, compared with the previous half.
Data from consumer group Which? and Proofpoint also showed that reports of smishing in the UK are 15 times higher than in the US. Smishing attempts with messages pretending to be from banks and delivery companies are particularly common as these industries often use text messages to communicate with customers.
Louise Baxter, head of the National Trading Standards scams team and Friends Against Scams, said reports of “friend-in-need” scams have been growing in recent months.
“Scammers send messages that appear to come from a friend or family member asking for personal information, money or a six-digit pin number," she said.
“The messages are sent from the compromised accounts of your friends, so they look as if they’re coming from someone you know, or from an unknown number claiming to be a friend who has lost their phone or been ‘locked out’ of their account. These kinds of scams are particularly cruel as they prey on our kindness and desire to help friends and family.”
WhatsApp's campaign urges people to:
Stop: Take time before you respond. Make sure your WhatsApp two-step verification is switched on to protect your account, that you are happy with your privacy settings.
Think: Does this request make sense? Are they asking for money? Remember that scammers prey on people’s kindness, trust and willingness to help.
Call: Verify that it really is your friend or family member by calling them directly, or asking them to share a voice note. Only when you are 100% sure the request is from someone you know and trust, should you consider it. If it turns out to be untrue, report it to Action Fraud.
The campaign said research has shown that people aged under 34 are significantly more likely to prefer a text-based method of communication to a phone call.
“WhatsApp protects our users’ personal messages with end-to-end encryption, but we want to remind people that we all have a role to play in keeping our accounts safe by remaining vigilant to the threat of scammers," said Kathryn Harnett, policy manager at WhatsApp.
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“We advise all users never to share their six-digit pin code with others, not even friends or family, and recommend that all users set up two-step verification for added security."
Citizens Advice Scams Action is also supporting the campaign, having seen an increase in messaging scams over the past year, including friend-in-need scams such as:
A scammer who claimed they were a friend stuck abroad and had to find hundreds of pounds to get home. When the recipient said they were unable to help they were blocked.
A parent who realised that a scammer was posing as their son asking for money via WhatsApp. They called their son to check and realised it was a scam.
A parent who received a WhatsApp message supposedly from their daughter saying they had had to change their number. It went on to ask for help paying a bill but the parent realised it was a scam.
Citizens Advice Scams Action is encouraging anyone who is worried about being targeted to visit its website to get help with online scams.
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