Scammers take to WhatsApp, hijacking numbers for fraud

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When it comes to communicating with friends, family and colleagues, WhatsApp is one social media that very few people can go without. However, it seems that the criminal element is now taking to WhatsApp to target unsuspecting victims.

Scammers are targeting people by simply hijacking WhatsApp accounts and then asking for money from one of the hijacked number’s contacts.

But how do these unscrupulous scammers hijack a WhatsApp account?

The perpetrators first take control of a phone number, which is done by porting the number to a new service provider, therefore associating with a SIM card which is under their control. This allows the scammer to receive confirmatory SMSes from WhatsApp. This allows them to take total control of the account, while the victim who is usually offline is none the wiser.

Being able to portray themselves as the victim, the scammer accesses the phone numbers of friends, family members and acquaintances, simply by waiting for incoming messages or through WhatsApp groups which the victim belongs to. The scammer then simply asks for money.

In the past, number porting was used to intercept one-time PIN (OTP) numbers.

However, this requires the scammer to gain control over the intended victim’s bank accounts, either by scanning credit card information or by stealing an individual’s login details for online banking.

This has all changed, as the scammers no longer need to gain access through this method anymore. The victim’s contacts are asked to send money through services such as First National Bank’s eWallet, which sees a code sent in order to withdraw money from an ATM through an SMS.

Currently, it isn’t clear just how widespread the scam is. On Wednesday, January 8, network operators claim they were only detecting a small number of fraudulent attempts to port numbers.

People are encouraged to practice caution when a WhatsApp contact requests money, placing a quick phone call to your contact can ensure you do not fall victim to a scammer.

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