Police are seeing an increase in reports of religious WhatsApp groups being targeted by scammers who infiltrate these groups in order to trick members into revealing verification codes, which the scammers use to steal money from group members. Victims targeted by this scam are often part of WhatsApp community groups such as church groups or prayer groups.
Members of the group receive a WhatsApp audio call or a message from someone masquerading as a member of the group. Commonly the scammer will use a false profile picture and / or display name, so at first glance they would appear to be a genuine member of the group.
The scammer advises the victim that they are about to receive a code which they will need to provide to allow them to join an upcoming video call for group members. Once the victim shares this passcode, the scammer is able to take over the victim’s WhatsApp account. Once the scammer has taken over the victim’s WhatsApp profile, they will enable two-step verification (aka 2FA or two factor authentication) so the genuine account owner can no longer log in.
The scammer will then go on to message other members of the group, or friends and family in the victim’s contacts, asking them to transfer money urgently as they are in desperate need of help – these messages will all appear to come from you, the person who has given the scammer your verification code. If the person the scammer is trying to defraud tries to contact you through WhatsApp, it’s the scammer, not you, who will get their message.
Protect yourself and others
- NEVER forward or disclose any verification codes to anyone. Much like your PIN, you must never share it with anyone – only ever enter it when required by the app/website.
- Set up 2FA to protect your WhatsApp account: Tap Settings > Account >Two-step verification > Enable.
- STOP. THINK. CHECK. If a family member or friend makes an unusual request on WhatsApp, always call the person to confirm their identity.
- You can report spam messages or block a sender within WhatsApp. Press and hold on the message bubble, select ‘Report’ and then follow the instructions.
An alternative to WhatsApp
Signal is an independent nonprofit, not tied to any major tech companies, and their legal structure means they can never be acquired by one. Development is supported by grants and donations from users. There are no ads, no affiliate marketers, and no tracking beacons in Signal. They do not sell their users’ information to profiling and marketing companies. All of these choices offer many protections to their users, but vigilance is nonetheless required because in time Signal may become big enough to become a hunting ground for the criminal gangs now robbing people through WhatsApp scams. Signal is used by some groups in the Glossop parishes. Learn more about Signal here.
If you have been a victim
If you have been a victim of fraud or cybercrime, report it at www.actionfraud.police.uk or by calling 0300 123 2040.