WhatsApp users are being warned to stay vigilant as scammers are targeting the messaging service with a virus which is spreading like wildfire.
A hoax known as ‘WhatsApp Gold’ first circulated in 2016 and it is now back with vengeance targeting users of the app.
Scammers are sending messages to users claiming to be someone else which contain a link to what they say is an update that gives you a special hidden version of the app with extra features including the ability to delete messages hours after sending them, hold video chats and send 100 photos at once.
If you click on the link which claims will download the update for you, instead you are directed to a website riddled with malware.
Scammers can then use this malware to break into your phone stealing your messages, photos and other private data.
According to security website Sophos, another version of the scam is also circulating which sees users receiving messages warning about a video called ‘martinelli’.
— Policía Nacional (@policia) July 29, 2017
The message warns this video will hack your phone when in reality the ‘martinelli’ footage doesn’t exist with the message itself being a front for the real scam – ‘WhatsApp Gold’.
The cybersecurity website says the message typically reads as follows:
If you know anyone using WhatsApp you might pass on this. An IT colleague has advised that a video comes out tomorrow from WhatsApp called martinelli do not open it, it hacks your phone and nothing will fix it. Spread the word. If you receive a message to update the Whatsapp to Whatsapp Gold, do not click !!!!!
Now said on the news this virus is difficult and severe. Pass it on to all.
Of course don’t pass it on and instead simply ignore it or even better delete the message.
Other earlier versions of the message includes:
Warning from An Garda. An IT expert has advised that a video comes out tomorrow from WhatsApp called martinelli do not open it, it hacks your phone and nothing will fix it. Spread the word.
Tomorrow comes a video for whatsapp is called martinelli do not open it hacks the phone in 10 seconds and you can not stop in any way pass the data to yours and friends.
A similar message claiming to come from the police was debunked by Spain’s Policía Nacional in July 2017.
Sophos offers the following simple advice to follow if you do receive a suspicious message writing:
There is nothing new about WhatsApp Gold, and staying safe online means keeping out all the malware that’s out there, not just the one or two rogue applications you hear about from via friends’ WhatsApp messages.
Instead, just follow some simple advice to keep your phone secure, and advise your friends and family to do the same if they ask.
Apply security updates promptly. Get your apps from the App Store or Google Play. Use security software like Sophos Mobile Security for iOS or Android.
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Emily Murray is a journalist at UNILAD. She graduated from the University of Leeds with a BA in English Literature and History before studying for a Masters in Journalism at the University of Salford. Emily has previously worked for the BBC, ITV and Trinity Mirror. When Emily isn’t writing about topics including mental health and entertainment, you can find her at the cinema which is her second home.