On the 12th of April, 2023, I was notified via WhatsApp that I had missed three calls from an international phone number beginning with the country code for Indonesia, which is +62. I didn’t really give it much thought at that point in time. In the days that followed, I saw that I was receiving an increasing amount of calls on my WhatsApp from unknown foreign numbers, some of which began with the country codes for Vietnam (+84) and Mali (+223).
It seems that I am not the only one who has experienced the peculiar phenomenon of receiving calls on WhatsApp from unknown overseas numbers. After conducting a fast search, it was discovered that a significant number of people, the most of whom are Indian, had reported receiving such calls. These instances may be seen here, here, and here, for instance.
It should come as no surprise that the vast majority of these international phone calls and text messages are attempts to defraud individuals. One user, Shreyansh Jain, for example, shared a screenshot of a text message they were receiving on WhatsApp. In the captured image, the sender identifies themselves as “HR Priscilla Barret” and states that they are advertising “a part-time job.”
You might be wondering what the work entails. The sender promises the receiver that they would receive Rs 50 in compensation for each like they give a YouTube video, and that they will be able to earn up to “10000 Rs” each day. Evidently, you’ve been had.
Senders using these foreign numbers typically pose as human resources (HR) officials of a firm, with the goal of convincing the receiver to participate in a scam involving getting likes on YouTube videos in exchange for money.
According to Bhaskar Majumdar, a senior communication strategist who spoke with Entrackr, “Today, it’s not only the scam calls, the process has become more digital and omnichannel including WhatsAapp messages, SMS and LinkedIn messages.”
“On average I get a minimum of two calls a week (at odd times and from India and international numbers both), and an equal number of messages on WhatsApp and on LinkedIn,” he continued. “These calls come from India and international numbers both.”
It seems like there has never been such a widespread occurrence of scam calls, particularly on WhatsApp. While con artists have been trying for a long time to take advantage of traditional text messaging (SMS) to target people, it seems that the use of WhatsApp on such a large scale is new.
According to Ritesh Bhatia, founder director of V4WEB Cybersecurity, it is likely that con artists may have purchased VoIP lines for WhatsApp internet in order to target consumers. He made the point that obtaining these virtual numbers for the sole purpose of utilizing WhatsApp is likewise a rather simple process.
Another likely reason, he suggested, is that con artists have acquired large quantities of overseas phone numbers solely for the purpose of defrauding individuals. For example, I could have a buddy in Dubai buy a local SIM card, then I could activate WhatsApp in this country by entering the verification code, and then I could use that number to contact certain individuals.
For con artists to carry off their schemes, it is not required for them to have really visited the countries in which they are pretending to vacation. “Also, these con artists are highly organized across different geographical areas. And in a manner not unlike to that of a mafia, they are all in this together,” he stated.
Entrackr has reason to believe that WhatsApp is aware of the con artists that target users of the instant messaging app. It already conducts high-decibel safety awareness ads, which warn consumers about various types of fraud and scams. The consumers have the ability to both report and block these fraudulent phone numbers thanks to the built-in security mechanisms.
According to Entrackr’s conversation with a WhatsApp spokesman, “over the years, we have consistently invested in Artificial Intelligence and other state-of-the-art technology, data scientists and experts, and in processes,” with the goal of ensuring the users’ safety while using the platform.
In addition, WhatsApp is now posting its monthly transparency report on a regular basis, as required by the applicable IT requirements.
“Between March 1st, 2023 and March 31st, 2023, a total of 4,715,906 WhatsApp accounts were terminated. According to the most recent transparency report published by WhatsApp, 1,659,385 of these accounts were blocked before the company received any allegations from users.
In spite of this, spam sent through traditional SMS has already become a significant problem in India. Already, the telecom companies in India are having a difficult time keeping up with the ever-increasing volume of annoying commercial phone calls and text messages.
Even though fraudsters targeting WhatsApp users on such a large scale is relatively new, the fact that the majority of mobile internet users in India utilize the instant messaging service for communication (messaging, phone and video chatting, and even for companies) should not really come as a surprise. In India alone, WhatsApp has approximately 500 million users, making it one of the country’s and the company’s largest user bases worldwide.
For the time being, users should immediately block any calls or texts from unfamiliar overseas numbers and should not interact with them.