Warning to WhatsApp users after surge in cyberciminals hacking accounts in Nottinghamshire
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The force has seen a spike in reports about a scam that sees a criminal gain control of a WhatsApp account belonging to someone who is part of a WhatsApp group – typically including members of a community or religious group.
The criminal will then contact that person, posing as a member of that group, often via a one-time WhatsApp audio call, with the intention of building trust in order to perpetrate the scam.
Often the scammers will change their profile picture and display name, so at first glance it would appear to be a member of the group.
During the phone call, the scammer will say they are sending a six-digit code which will allow them to join an upcoming video call for the group’s members.
In reality, the code is a six digit 2-Step Verification (2SV) code for their own WhatsApp account, and if the code is shared, the criminal can log in to the account and lock the victim out.
The criminals will then repeat this tactic with other WhatsApp contacts in an effort to steal access to more accounts. Once they have access, they have been known to message friends and family in the victim’s contact list asking for them to urgently transfer them money.
Cyber Protect Officer Kirsty Jackson said the scam was happening nationwide but that Nottinghamshire Police had received a spike in reports in recent weeks.
She said: “In one of the examples, a woman received a phone call on WhatsApp. She didn’t recognise the number but the profile had a picture of two children so she thought it might be a parent who she knew. “She answered and the caller said he was from a prayer group that she belonged to. He then invited her to a virtual meeting and advised he would send her a link.
“He then told her a code would come through to her phone, and that she’d need to give him that code so that he could accept her into the meeting.
“She followed these instructions – but the code actually granted the man access to her own WhatsApp account. He then used it to lock her out and then send messages to her contacts, making up stories in an effort to get them to transfer over sums of money.
“Thankfully no-one did but following these reports, we are encouraging people to always be vigilant. Be wary of being contacted via WhatsApp, or any other messaging platform, and being asked to provide information - despite the fact that you may recognise the individual’s profile picture and/or name.
“Never share your account information with anyone and if you think it is spam, report the message and block the sender within WhatsApp. To make your account secure, we’d advise setting up two-step verification to give an extra layer of protection.”
Another person targeted in recent weeks was Mansfield resident Collins Nlembe. The 56-year-old, who works for the NHS, said his WhatsApp account was hacked by a cybercriminal who then sent messages to his friends asking for money.