A cartoon of a user answering a text on their mobile phone.

Messaging platforms such as WhatsApp and Telegram have become a convenient medium for communication, connecting millions of people worldwide. However, this ease of connection has also opened up opportunities for malicious actors to execute recruitment scams. These scams cleverly exploit the platform’s functionalities and users’ trust to extract personal information or money. Recognising the signs of such scams and knowing how to protect yourself are essential steps in maintaining your digital security.

Scam Techniques

Scammers often pose as potential employers or recruitment agents, offering attractive job opportunities that seem too good to be true. For instance, one common scam circulating on WhatsApp involves fake job offers that promise an hourly salary of up to $120 in a UK location. If a user shows interest, the scammer proceeds to ask for money for security checks or work equipment, a tactic known as advanced fee fraud. In some instances, these job ads are used for money laundering purposes or to obtain your bank details and identity documents such as passports​.

Another clever trick used by scammers is the ‘wrong number’ approach. They send a message claiming to have changed their phone number and proceed to engage the recipient in conversation, often leading to bogus cryptocurrency investment schemes or romance scamsRomance scam Romance scams are particularly insidious because they play on one of the most fundamental human needs - the desire for companionship and love. Scammers create fake profiles on dating apps or social media sites, often stealing photos from the web to use as their own. They initiate a relationship with their victims, gaining their trust over weeks or months, and then use this emotional leverage to extract money, gifts, or personal information. They may claim they need money for an emergency or to plan a visit to meet the victim.​.

Scammers are also known to use messaging platforms to invite users to groups where a fake ‘analyst’ or ‘expert’ discusses the advantages of investing in cryptocurrency. The groups are populated with bots, which verify the false claims made by the fake analyst, giving an air of authenticity to the scam​​.

How Your Information Is At Risk

The average user may be tricked into giving away a variety of personal information, including their name, address, bank details, passport details, and other sensitive information. This information can be used for identity theft, fraudulent transactions, and other criminal activities.

End Goal for Scammers

The ultimate goal for these scammers varies. Some are interested in stealing money directly, while others are interested in obtaining personal information for identity theft or other fraudulent activities. Some scammers may even use the information for money laundering purposes.

How Did They Even Get My Phone Number?

Scammers have a variety of ways to get their hands on your phone number. Here are a few common methods:

  1. Data Breaches: When companies suffer data breaches, your personal information, including your phone number, can end up in the hands of scammers.
  2. Public Directories and Social Media: If your phone number is listed in a public directory or you’ve shared it on social media, a scammer can easily find it.
  3. Third-Party Sharing: Some businesses sell or share the contact information of their customers with other companies. These third-party companies may not always have robust security measures in place, making this information more susceptible to scammers.
  4. Random Dialling and Number Spoofing: Scammers may also simply dial random numbers until they reach a live person. Alternatively, they can use a technique called “spoofing” to make their phone number appear as a local or familiar number on your caller ID, tricking you into thinking the call is from a legitimate source.

How to Protect Yourself

WhatsApp and other messaging platforms are secured with end-to-end encryption, but it’s up to the user to take active steps to protect their accounts. If you receive a suspicious message, even from a known contact, verify the sender’s identity by calling them or requesting a voice note. Avoid clicking on any links in unsolicited messages and report any suspicious activity immediately​.

Scammers are continually evolving their methods to trick innocent users into falling for their scams. Therefore, it is important to stay vigilant, be aware of the latest scam tactics, and take necessary measures to protect your personal information.

In this digital age, always remember the adage: If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.