A scam promoting WhatsApp Gold – a premium version of the messaging service allegedly used by celebrities – is circulating on social networks. Would-be users are promised a raft of extra features and given a link, which actually leads to a malicious software download.
Use of social media is soaring as people are confined to their homes during the coronavirus pandemic, and turn online to keep in touch with loved ones, making it easy for such hoaxes to spread.
In a statement (opens in new tab), WhatsApp's parent company Facebook explained that it's struggling to keep up with an explosion in demand for its services over recent weeks, as people turn to social media to keep in touch with friends and loved ones.
"In places hit hardest by the virus, voice and video calling have more than doubled on Messenger and WhatsApp," it said.
Avoid WhatsApp scams
The WhatsApp Gold hoax has been around for a while, but has recently re-surfaced alongside a handful of other scams.
Another message currently circulating on WhatsApp warns users to watch out for a video called 'Martinelli', which will damage phones when watched. The video in question doesn't seem to actually exist, and if it did, watching videos within WhatsApp itself won't cause malicious software to be installed; the problem arises when messages contain a link to an external site, which could direct them anywhere.
A similar hoax warns about a video called 'The Dance of the Pope', which will allegedly reformat the victim's phone. As security expert Graham Cluley (opens in new tab) reports, no such video exists, and variations of the same message have been circulating since at least 2015.
These messages circulate easily, shared by people who believe they are helping their friends, but only serve to cause confusion and worry.
To fight back, WhatsApp is now testing a fact-checking tool that will let you search online for more information and context about messages you receive. An icon beside forwarded messages allows you to search for their content on Google, which usually helps highlight scams and misinformation.
Hopefully this will help stop the spread of these messages, which can spread around the world as well-meaning people forward them without checking their validity.
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