WhatsApp users warned over ‘friend in need’ scam - here’s how to spot it

WhatsApp has launched its “Stop. Think. Call.” campaign following a sharp increase in scams on the app.

The campaign aims to educate people on how to protect themselves and their WhatsApp account from these scams.

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In the last year, more than half of people have received a message-based scam or know someone who has, according to the campaign partnered with National Trading Standards.

What does the campaign advise?

The campaign urges people to:

Stop: Make sure to take time when responding and make sure your WhatsApp two-step verification is activated to protect your account.

Think: Question if the request makes sense and what they are asking for. Are they asking for money? Remember scammers prey on kindness, trust and willingness to help.

Call: Make sure it is actually your friend or family member by ringing them, or ask them to share a voice note with you. You should only consider it if you are 100% the request is from someone you know. If the person turns out to be untrue, call Action Fraud.

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What are message-based scams?

Scammers send messages that appear to come from a friend or family member asking for personal information, money or a six-digit pin number,” Louise Baxter, head of the National Trading Standards scams team and Friends Against Scams, said.

She added: “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.”

What has WhatsApp said?

WhatsApp have urged those who use the app to be vigilant and follow its steps to ensure your account is safe.

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“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,” Kathryn Harnett, policy manager at WhatsApp, said.

Ms Harnett advised people to “never to share their six-digit pin code with others, not even friends or family” and recommends the setting up of “two-step verification for added security.”

“If you receive a suspicious message (even if you think you know who it is from), calling or requesting a voice note is the fastest and simplest way to check someone is who they say they are,” she added.

What types of message scams are there?

Citizens Advice Scams Action has seen a rise in messaging scams including a variety of ‘friends-in-need’ scams.

These include:

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A scammer claimed they were a friend stuck abroad and had to find hundreds of pounds to get home. When the person said they couldn’t help they were blocked.

A parent realised 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 received a WhatsApp message supposedly from their daughter saying they had had to change their number. It asked for help paying a bill but the parent realised it was a scam.

What other support is there against scams?

Citizens Advice Scams Action encourages people to visit its website to get help with online scams if you are worried about being targeted.

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There are free online training sessions run by Friends Against Scams to empower people to stand up against scams. The sessions also help to identify the different types of scams and provide directions on how to report them.

The campaign recruits “scambassadors”, who are MPs, senior officials or a person who can use their position of power as influence to raise the profile of scams to a national level.

Scambassador Joel Dommett said: “Simply remembering to Stop. Think. Call. when you get an unusual message may save you a lot of money and inconvenience in the long run.”

A version of this article originally appeared on our sister title, NationalWorld.

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