About a month ago, I received a few random video calls from unknown, international numbers on WhatsApp. I rarely (read: never) pick up unknown calls without Truecaller-ing them first, and I simply chalked it up to an accident and thought nothing of it. Turns out, I’m only one of the millions of WhatsApp users in the country constantly receiving unknown calls and messages through the app.
Within a decade, WhatsApp has become a staple of Indian culture, and most of our communication happens through the messaging app – from keeping in touch with family to even colleagues. Last year, the company also introduced a UPI option so you can conduct monetary transactions through it. It’s just one of those things that feel inherently Indian, even though the company was actually started by two Americans in California.
Older Indians especially put a lot of their trust in this app, even though the messaging platform is constantly flooded with scammers – thanks to its easy accessibility. With more than two billion monthly active users (MAU) and growing popularity among small businesses, it’s common to receive spam messages and calls on the app. But the recent rise in spam calls is a cause for concern for many Indians, who have taken to Twitter to voice their experiences.
Users are randomly receiving calls from countries like Malaysia, Kenya, Vietnam and Ethiopia, which is something that the ISD codes suggest. As of now, there is no clarity on how this began. But we do know that the frequency of calls is pretty medium to high. Some receive 2 to 4 calls on alternate days.
Much of the messages are about sham job offers – where they “promise” you 150/- rs or so for a menial task and eventually bump up your ‘salary’. These kinds of job offers might seem like very obvious scams to you – but with about 500 million WhatsApp users in India at the receiving end of these scams, there are many vulnerable parties who don’t know better.
Some users on Twitter have shared their personal experiences after deliberately engaging with the scammers out of curiosity, and it seems like a very intricate process, but not very subtle.
Detailed Thread about Whatsapp Scam :
1. You will get a misscall /video call from international number or may be indian (my case was international)
2. She will ask you whether you have telegram and Instagram and job related schemes (follow/following) mainly . pic.twitter.com/fsaWby0YK4
— Varun Ganjoo (@Ganjoo_Varun) May 10, 2023
If you are receiving these calls or messages, the safest measure here is to not engage at all. Block and report the numbers and move along. Especially do not click on links, download any apps or share OTPs they send.
As to why there’s an exponential rise in these spam calls, that might be due to India’s lack of anti-cybercrime laws. WhatsApp said in its ‘Monthly India Report’ that until 1 May this year, it had banned over 4.5 million “malicious” accounts in India. It also stated that it had received 4,720 reports of such accounts in March and had acted on 585 among them. Since most scammers use a business account, WhatsApp is more lenient to large quantities of messages originating from these numbers as well as spam reports/blocks against such numbers, owing to the nature of business communication. So it’s easier for such accounts to slip under the radar.
In a statement to CNBC TV, the company assured that they are taking proper action to detect abnormal activities in accounts and remove them. But it will be a while before they can figure out the root of the problem, and until then, scammers run deep throughout the app.