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Top Story: Watch out! Free internet scam spreading through messaging app

Top Story: Watch out! Free internet scam spreading through messaging app
© Pabmap | Dreamstime.com

The holiday season has come and gone and we're into the New Year, 2017. With all of the cybercrime that took place in 2016, many people are saying good riddance. Who could forget about the two massive Yahoo data breaches reported last year?

Unfortunately, this year is getting off to the same type of start as the last. There is a new scam making the rounds on the popular messaging site, WhatsApp.

This isn't the typical type of hoax, as of now. It's what is known as a bait and switch scam. Researchers with Naked Security detailed the scam after being tipped off by one of its readers.

Bait and switch hoax

So what's happening is, WhatsApp users are getting a message offering them free Wi-Fi service. It claims that WhatsApp has launched the "Ultra-Light Wifi Feature" that gives you free 3G internet for those times that you don't have a connection. Here is what the message looks like:

whatsapp-scam

Image source Naked Security

Obviously, this is NOT true. There are so many things wrong with this message that it's difficult to know where to begin.

Let's start with the fact that the message says you can use the Ultra-Light Wifi feature to enjoy free 3G internet wherever you go for the WhatsApp application. This just doesn't make sense from a tech standpoint, as Wi-Fi and 3G are different technologies. So obviously, a Wi-Fi feature wouldn't let you enjoy 3G internet.

Then there are the spelling and grammatical errors.

The official brand spelling is WhatsApp. The scammer misspells this incorrectly multiple times. First as Whatsapp and then as whatsapp. If this was a legitimate message from the actual company, they would never misspell their own brand.

Another sign that this is a scam is the suffix on the blocked out link in the message, which is .ML. That means it's a free domain name from the African nation Mali. Many scam sites will have the suffix .ML because the domain name doesn't cost the scammer any money, although this isn't always the case.

What's the risk?

Whenever you fall for a bait and switch scam like this you've opened the door to multiple risks. The link in the message could be malicious, infecting your gadget with ransomware or another type of virus. It could be a phishing scam, trying to steal your credentials or banking information.

In this particular scam, you click on the link in the message and you're sent to a series of other sites. You're also told to forward the message onto a number of your friends. This will supposedly unlock the Ultra-Light Wifi feature for you to use for free.

Naked Security says that none of the landing sites are malicious at this time, but that can change at any moment. Crooks can switch the content on the site that you're sent to, to any number of scams. This means that not only are you at potential risk but so are the others that you forward the message to.

Hoax messages happen quite often on popular messaging services. Here are some recommendations from WhatsApp on how to handle them:

  • Block the sender of the message
  • Disregard the message
  • Delete the message
  • Never forward these messages - this will prevent exposing your contacts to potential harm

As we said earlier, this scam hasn't triggered any exploits infecting gadgets with malware as of yet. Keep checking our Happening Now section and we'll let you know if there are any updates.

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