Guiding consumers since 2009

Beware the WhatsApp scam

By Staff Writer
One of the best ways to make sure you scam is going to work, is to go after what is popular, so says Liron Segev, IT consultant and prominent technology blogger on TheTechieGuy website.
Therefore, the new WhatsApp scam has the potential to do some serious damage to people's wallets due to the popularity of WhatsApp.
 
The scam
 
The scam works much in the same way as other mobile scams: by having people click on a link to either retrieve, or update information.
 
With the WhatsApp scam an SMS is sent from a Wireless Access Service Provider (Wasp) informing users that their WhatsApp needs to be updated. In order to do that, the SMS says they need to follow a certain link.
 
Even though many might disregard the SMS, those who do click through are brought to a website, with a screen that asks them to click in order to continue.
 
Many who have gotten to this screen won't notice, and thus won't read the fine print at the bottom of the 'continue' button.
 
According to Segev, the fine print reads: "Subscription R7 per day."
 
This means that after a month (30 days) people would end up paying R210. If this is left unchecked for a year you could at the very least pay R2,520.
 
Is this allowed?
 
According to Richard Boorman, executive head of communications at Vodacom, they do allow a third party service provider, such as WhatsApp, to charge their customer's bill if the customer and provider follow their double opt-in process.
 
"This would involve clicking on a link or sending an SMS to request a service, and then again confirming that you are subscribing to the service either by clicking on a confirmation link or by sending a confirmation SMS. We enforce that the confirmation SMS must show what a customer is signing up for and what it costs," said Boorman.
 
Boorman highlighted that it seems like that is what is happening in the case of the WhatsApp SMS scam.
 
"But that the company involved [with the scam] was using deceptive graphics to distract the customer and draw their attention away from the text highlighting the costs," said Boorman.
Boorman said that Vodacom is putting measures in place to make sure that Wasps are blocked from their network.
 
"Our service provider team is currently looking into this – it may be that we have already blocked it. We will take action against any service provider who attempts to circumvent the rules we put in place to make it clear what a customer is signing up for as well as what the costs of the service are. That action would include revoking the supplier's access to our network and customers," said Boorman.
 
Ending the scam
 
Segev highlights that it will be difficult to get yourmoney back as technically you've signed up for the service.
 
The service isn't illegal as the scam company did display (even if obscurely) what the terms and conditions of the service are.
 
In order to cancel the subscription Segev said that people need to call their service providers as soon as possible. Before you do though, check your latest cell phone call statement to find out if you've got any unsolicited charges being billed to your phone. Highlight these and then speak to your provider about the line items.
 
When it comes to apps like WhatsApp, users will never be SMSed to update the app, or their information. WhatsApp can only be updated via the Google Play apps market for Android or the Apple App Store.
 
"WhatsApp, and in fact any other app, should only be updated from the official App store. Developers of apps hate managing different versions of their app and the official application store makes it simple to have one point which notifies all their users of the new version," said Segev.

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