sweet messages from strangers, is a common-sense rule, and should now be part of the good habits of the internet user and of those who use digital services. Yet online scams by sending messages are commonplace. In the specific case, we return to shed light on scam attempts through WhatsApp, one of the most widespread and used messaging platforms. The modus operandi of these scammers can be summarized as follows
- use a VoIP telephone number (a practice that is prohibited by WhatsApp regulations, which are in any case circumvented)
- target a particular user or random users
- when they find a valid phone number they send a message asking something like “Sorry, who are you? I found you in my address book”. With these messages, always with kind tones, they try to win the victim’s trust
- then they ask for some details such as name, age, and a job
- at the end of the conversation they ask to be added to the contact list of a social account (e.g. Instagram and Facebook)
Putting strangers on your social contact list may not be a good idea, since it opens the door to the possibility that the attacker blackmails the user by stealing, for example, both real photos contained in the account and photos that are appropriately retouched, and threatening to disclose them. Without neglecting the fact that adding a stranger to the circle of friends/contacts allows him to know other personal information of the victim (who are his friends, what he does, when he does it, etc.), which could be exploited to perform others types of offenses. It may all seem very theoretical, but the reflection on the risks associated with these scam attempts comes from the experience told by the colleagues of WaBetaInfo and enriched with the screenshot that shows how the conversation with the scammer ends.
Probably, users of digital services with a minimum of experience do not remotely think about the possibility of falling into the trap, but we must think that WhatsApp is used by a very diverse audience, among which there are also most vulnerable subjects – think of minors -; aggravating the situation is also the fact that in times of pandemic and social distancing some may not seem so bad the prospect of expanding their network of virtual contacts by accepting the request of a stranger. Bad idea.