WhatsApp is a huge social media platform, with over 2 billion accounts worldwide and over 75 million users in the United States.
Unfortunately, the sheer size and global reach of the platform make WhatsApp scams commonplace, just like other social media. Last year, US citizens alone lost $770 million to social media scams – and in 2023, malicious actors are continuing to turn to WhatsApp to find their next victims.
We have compiled a list of scams that have been spotted on the platform in 2023, accompanied by WhatsApp scam pictures. This page is regularly updated to include the latest scams on WhatsApp, and currently includes:
- Family Member Impersonation Scams
- Wrong Number Scams
- “Complete This Survey” scams
- WhatsApp Romance Scams
- WhatsApp Bank Scams
- WhatsApp Crypto Scams
- “You've Won Something” Scams
- WhatsApp Scams on Other Platforms
WhatsApp Scams in 2023
Although WhatsApp scam pictures can be found all over the internet, scammers change the format of their messages regularly, so it’s good to familiarise yourself with the types of scams you may encounter on WhatsApp, as well as common tactics used by malicious actors.
WhatsApp scams are often sent out en masse, and try to invoke a sense of urgency in the sender. Maybe it’s a family member who needs financial support immediately, or a representative of a celebrity asking you to donate to their new cause. Broadly, scammers usually want to do one of three things:
- Steal your money or cryptocurrency.
- Obtain your personally identifiable information.
- To load malware onto your device.
Being able to identify common causes of WhatsApp scamming will help you stay safe and ensure you aren’t duped by the con artists lurking around on the platform.
Family Member Impersonation Scams on WhatsApp
Who do people trust the most? Often it’s their family members – which is why an increasing number of WhatsApp scams involve malicious actors impersonating victims' nearest and dearest.
A much-seen iteration of this scam is commonly known as the ‘Hi Mom, Hi Dad” scam, and involves the threat actor pretending to be a parent’s child with a new phone number.
Then, the scammer uses social engineering techniques – such as claiming their online bank account isn’t working, or that they've lost files and pictures – to extort money and/or personal information out of the unsuspecting victim (Image credit: Mosman Collective).
Jennifer Mcllveen, Editor of Tech.co, learned her grandfather recently fell victim to this kind of WhatsApp scam, after receiving the following message: “Hi dad, my other phone crashed so hence the new temporary number. Message me if you read this ❤️️”
“My family was on vacation at the time the scammer sent the message, so it seemed more plausible to my grandpa that his son (my dad) would be using a temporary number,” she explained.
“The impersonator went on to ask my grandpa to make some payments for them, claiming they needed the money that day and promising to pay him right back. By the time my grandfather realized something was wrong, he’d already sent over $2,800.”
How Do I Protect Myself? If you’ve been messaged by a family member claiming to have a new number, message their old number to confirm it is in fact them. Do not click on any links sent from the new number until you have confirmed it is a family member.
“My Phone has Broken” WhatsApp Scam
Reports of a WhatsApp scam have been circulating as recently as October 2022. It involves threat actors impersonating a family member or friend of a target in a WhatsApp message, and texting them from a “new” number claiming their “phone has broken”. Sometimes, threat actors will say the new number belongs to a friend in an effort to convey trust.
The threat actor will subsequently ask targets to urgently transfer the money to a bank account to pay a bill, a fine, or a similar sort of payment. This is sometimes called “push payment fraud”.
How Do I Protect Myself? If you're using WhatsApp and you receive a message from a number you don't recognize claiming to be someone you know, ask for proof of identity, and certainly do not part with any money or personal information.
Wrong Number Scams on WhatsApp
WhatsApp wrong number scams have been around for a while and often involve more subtle long-winded social engineering techniques.
They typically start with a message from an unknown number, introduce themselves or their business, and then claim that they entered the wrong number to explain their message (Image Credit: IBT Times India)
However, far from closing the conversation there, scammers will then ask you if you’d like to invest in their business. They may ask for your name and where in the world you’re based.
How Do I Protect Myself? As a general rule, if you’re contacted by a number you don’t recognize on WhatsApp, do not reply, and certainly do not give out any personal information. No legitimate business will be looking for investors in off-the-cuff WhatsApp conversations.
“Complete This Survey” WhatsApp Scams
Last year, Kaspersky warned WhatsApp users about a scam message being circulated on the app that asked users to complete a short survey about their experience on WhatsApp.
Users were also asked to pay a small amount of money in order to receive the cash prize for the survey. Another, similar WhatsApp survey scam offering free Amazon gifts upon completion, such as Huawei phones, made the news in 2022 (Image Credit: Hindustan Times).
How Do I Protect Myself? Think logically. What kind of competition needs you to pay money in order to receive money? A fake one, that’s what.
WhatsApp Romance Scams
Although romance scams often start on dating apps like Tinder, dating apps are also the most attuned to hunting down and banning accounts trying to extort people. Furthermore, on almost all dating apps, you can block and report accounts if you think they're acting suspiciously.
However, this means scammers often attempt to quickly move to WhatsApp or other social media platforms to continue their social engineering, and eventually extort large amounts of cash out of lovesick victims (Image Credit: New York Times).
Other romance scams spotted in the last year involved WhatsApp users being invited to a group for strangers seeking romantic relationships, only to be redirected via the link to a fake Facebook login page that stole the details of anyone that filled in the credential fields.
How do I Protect Myself? Never enter any account credentials into a link sent to you by an unverified number, especially for a major site. In the above case, you’d be able to find the Facebook group via your Facebook app or the website.
WhatsApp Bank Scams
This year, there has been at least one report of scammers impersonating banks on WhatsApp – another institution people often trust.
One version of this con was reported on TikTok by US-based English teacher Amanda Seimitz in May of last year. It involved a scammer contacting her on WhatsApp purporting to be from her bank. The malicious actor claimed she had to update her banking details in order to pay outstanding bills and send/receive payments.
How do I Protect Myself? Nowadays, the vast majority of banks send you some information to prove to you that they hold your personal information, so first, check for that. Secondly, your bank will have a customer support line – if you’re worried whether a message is in fact from your bank, just start an independent channel of communication.
WhatsApp Crypto Scams
A particular problem over the last year in India, WhatsApp groups full of bitcoin “analysts” promising near-to 100% returns on investments.
Names and other details were not revealed, nor were company details or website addresses, and no one consented to be added to these groups – three signs there's something shady going on (Image Credit: Inc42)
“Cheerleaders” were present in the group, seemingly used to confirm the claims made by analysts – however, it’s likely they’re just part of the scam too.
How do I Protect Myself? Don’t be swayed by multiple people “confirming” that a method of money-making does in fact work. Not all scammers work alone.
“You’ve Won Something” WhatsApp Scams
This is a sub-genre of phishing scam that is becoming more prevalent on WhatsApp and is a classic method of duping people into clicking on malicious links over text or email.
Often, the link posted as part of the message will track very closely to a legitimate website name, but will have some telltale signs, such as an accented character, like the scam text impersonating UK supermarket ASDA (Image Credit: DG Cars) or a subtle spelling error somewhere in the URL.
How do I Protect Myself? The old mantra “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is” is an excellent principle to live by on the internet. If you really want to check if you genuinely did win something, contact the customer service department of the company or business.
WhatsApp Scams on Other Platforms
Unfortunately, WhatsApp scams aren’t confined to the WhatsApp app itself. WhatsApp, after all, is a bit of a household name, so it’s perfect for conveying legitimacy for email phishing campaigns.
Tech.co reported on a WhatsApp email scam that was making the headlines back in April, which redirected unsuspecting users to a malicious webpage.
Users that clicked the “Allow” button on this page – which the site claimed would confirm they aren’t a robot – had malware downloaded onto their device (Image Credit: Amorblox)
How do I Protect Myself? If you receive an email from a big brand that includes spelling mistakes, is formatted in an odd way, or comes from an email address that looks strange, don't open it, and certainly don't click on it. Like with banks and other companies, you can always contact the company through a distinct, official channel to confirm that the email whether the email is legitimate.
Also, a lot of contemporary antivirus software comes with phishing protection and filtering, so it's worth checking out some providers.
Tips for Staying Safe Online
As you can probably tell from some of the scams discussed in this article, the internet can be a dangerous place. There are lots of cyber threats to look out for, and not all of them are confined to WhatsApp. When it comes to suspicious messages, follow these rules:
- Don't Click On Links: One click is all it takes to load malware onto your device. If you're at all suspicious, don't click.
- Check With Customer Service: If you want to confirm the legitimacy of an email, contact the company directly.
- Educate Yourself: Keep up to date with the latest scams, so you can spot and avoid them.
These are all well and good, but there are other things we'd advise doing to keep yourself safe. One thing that will instantly improve your security – especially in terms of your social media accounts – is using a password manager.
Password managers will help you ensure all of your passwords are sufficiently long and completely unique to every account you own. This means that even if one of your accounts is compromised, hackers won't have an easy way into all the rest of the websites you hold one with.
So, whatever app you're using, be sure to keep your ears to the ground and your eyes open – or you too could end up falling victim to one of these scams.