Hackers Target Victims with Bogus WhatsApp Upgrade

One of the hottest SMS communication apps—a productivity app that lets users communicate via text message, collaborate on team projects, and more—is WhatsApp. With over one billion registered users, it’s popular for work, social connections, and just basic streamlining of your day.

Unfortunately, any time a platform has that large a user base, scammers are going to strike. The chances of sending out spam emails and reaching a WhatsApp user are really good with so many people using the platform, which makes them a prime target. Of course, should they happen to reach a registered user, their message and its bogus product offering might sound too good to pass up.

In the past few days, hackers have been sending out phishing emails and messages that claim to offer the new upgrade to WhatsApp Gold, a supposedly advanced form of the app that reportedly includes the ability to video chat, send up to one hundred images in the same message at once, and more. All the user has to do to upgrade to this new “secret” version of the app—yes, it even says it’s got secret features that the rest of the world can’t use yet—is (you guessed it) click the included link.

Anyone who’s read up on phishing attempts and identity theft already knows that you never, ever click an included link in an email you weren’t expecting. And as security experts have already discovered, the links contain data mining malware. That means the link will install harmful software on your computer or smartphone, software that will sift through your stored data and find anything useful, like user names, passwords, and any other important information you’ve got stored.

This isn’t the first time that WhatsApp users have been targeted with phishing attempts. Earlier this year, scammers sent out mass emails that claimed the recipients had unheard audio messages or unviewed video messages. To retrieve their messages, the users only had to click the link.

There’s another factor that made WhatsApp the perfect tool to reach unsuspecting victims, other than just their really large user base. The company announced some time ago that they were developing a desktop version of the app, meaning the popular smartphone app could now be linked to your PC or Mac, offering even more flexibility and usefulness. With the news that the desktop version was coming out, scammers played off of the headlines surrounding the new version in order to nab more victims; now that the computer version finally launched this month, WhatsApp is in the news again, making it more plausible that this phony app upgrade might be real.

Sadly, the scammers have relied on yet another long-time phishing tactic: the weirdly unprofessional wording in their message. Promising everything from that “top secret” set of features to listing which celebrities are already using the special gold edition, the message is aimed at people who are gullible enough to fall for it. Professional WhatsApp users may instantly spot a spam email message, but members of the general public who fall for it will not only turn over their information, but will accidentally allow the hackers to spread the phony message to even more users in their contacts.

If you’ve already received this message or you receive similar-sounding phishing attempts in the future, just delete them. If you’ve accidentally clicked the link, it’s vital that you install antivirus software on your computer or smartphone. Most important, never click a link in an email that you weren’t expecting, and be watchful of strange messages that just don’t seem right.

Anyone can be a victim of identity theft, anyone can use our services, and anyone can help us help others. If you found this information useful, please consider donating to the Identity Theft Resource Center to help us keep our services free to the public.



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