As the usage of social media and mobile messaging apps has surged tremendously worldwide due to the social distancing and lockdowns to avoid the further spread of Covid-19, scammers have also found an opportunity to thrive. Among the many fake messages circulating on social media, there is one particular WhatsApp scam people are falling prey to mostly.
Named as “WhatsApp Gold”, the scam message is not new and first made its rounds in the mid-2010. The message claims to provide access to a secret app version of WhatsApp used by celebrities. This app, according to the text, is the gold version of WhatsApp and offers a suite of exclusive features not available for the users of “regular” version of WhatsApp.
But here’s the dangerous part of the text. It contains a link supposedly meant to download the app but is actually malware. Once downloaded, it infects a phone, the user’s privacy becomes compromised and they are subject to theft of sensitive personal data.
However, WhatsApp Gold is not the only scam that seems to have revived. Another message, meant to alert users, talks of avoiding videos titled “Martinelli” or “Dance of the Pope”. According to this scam text aimed at spreading panic among users, watching the video infects one’s phones with virus or malware or formats it. Different versions also seem to exist but state different effects of watching the video – which doesn’t make any harm to the phone.
But the last WhatsApp scam looks quite legit and more believable as there opting a freemium model is a general practice where various apps offer many advanced features only to premium users of apps.
Is it possible for phones to get infected through videos?
Many experts have addressed the claim made by the ‘Martinelli’ hoax of infection through watching videos.
The prevalent opinion right now seems to indicate that videos in and of themselves have limited known potential to infect a device. Experts remain more cautious about any accompanying text messages because they have been known to be programmed with malicious content in the past.
However, with all such texts and mass forwards, it is important for WhatsApp user to avoid clicking on unknown links and cross-check such claims from reliable tech news outlets.
Generally speaking, something as dangerous as the mythical ‘Martinelli’ hoax gets reported widely and fixed quickly.
Covid-19 and the Increase in the Use of Social Media
As mentioned earlier, the use of messaging platforms and social media has increased manifold with the novel coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe.
In a statement earlier this week, Facebook revealed some statistics regarding the consumption spike the service has experienced.
According to Facebook’s data, there has been a 50% increase in messaging across their messaging platforms in the past few weeks. Video and voice calling has also increased.
The social media giant reported having to make a tremendous effort to manage the service’s stability due to the sudden and prolonged increase inactivity.
On the other hand, another report by Kantar points out the increasing use of WhatsApp in terms of time spent and number of messages. The report highlights that the usage of WhatsApp has increased by 40%, the most out of all social networking apps. This report also found that usage percentage increases even more in the later stages of the pandemic, rising to as much as 51%.
The study reports similar changes in social networking apps used in China such as Weibo.
The sudden rise in the usage of Messaging apps and social media platforms have also provided scammers with a great opportunity to scam as many users as possible. As users are glued with such apps/platforms through their home network due to the Coronavirus outbreak, their reduced network security level has made them more vulnerable nowadays.
The rising number of WhatsApp scams or social media scams are becoming a big challenge for authorities as well. However, scams like WhatsApp Gold, are difficult to identify much before the damages.