Rising Threat of WhatsApp Missed Call Scams: Here’s How to Stay Safe

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In recent times, India has experienced a surge in WhatsApp missed call scams, posing a significant cyber threat. The average Indian may be intrigued by a missed call from an international number, often leading them to call back or respond via text. Unfortunately, fraudsters capitalize on this curiosity, employing deceptive talking scripts to trick users with fake job offers and work-from-home opportunities.

The main objective of these scammers, as highlighted by Huzefa Motiwala, director of system engineering at Palo Alto Networks, is to deceive and manipulate victims into divulging their confidential information. Once obtained, this information is either sold to third parties or exploited for fraudulent purposes.

This issue is compounded by the rampant sharing and selling of personal user data. Recent reports reveal that two out of every three Indians receive multiple calls daily from individuals attempting to sell financial products or properties. While most of these calls can be disregarded, the more significant concern lies in the misuse of user data. The WhatsApp missed call scam exemplifies how malicious actors prey on user vulnerability through social engineering and phishing tactics.

Motiwala sheds light on various aspects of the WhatsApp scam and offers insights into safeguarding against similar scams. Let’s explore his responses:

Warning Signs: Identifying this scam is relatively straightforward due to its presentation as a missed call or a WhatsApp text from an international number. Users should refrain from responding to unknown numbers that message or call directly on WhatsApp, particularly if they originate from international numbers. If interacting with an unknown caller, exercise caution when sharing personal information unless complete trust has been established.

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Risk for Enterprises: WhatsApp scams targeting employees can have serious consequences for both individuals and the organizations they are associated with. Scammers gaining access to sensitive information like employee ID numbers and user access passwords can put companies at risk. To counter such attacks, companies should educate and raise awareness among employees, equipping them with knowledge to identify and handle such threats. Moreover, using consumer-grade communication platforms like WhatsApp for work communication poses risks due to the lack of control and susceptibility to social engineering attacks and data breaches.

Prevention and Mitigation Strategies: WhatsApp has been taking action against accounts involved in scam calls, with over 47 lakh ‘malicious’ accounts banned in India until May 2023. Strictly enforcing policies to curb criminal activities at their root level would effectively reduce the volumes of such scams. Network providers must establish security measures to terminate calls from suspicious sources and remediate any security loopholes within their infrastructures. To protect themselves, users can adopt the following mitigation strategies:

  1. Multi-factor authentication: Enable multi-factor authentication on WhatsApp to enhance account security and privacy.
  2. Report: Ignore, block, and report calls from suspicious numbers to prevent further scams.
  3. Stay vigilant: Stay informed about the latest scams circulating on social media and communication apps, which can help users avoid falling prey to attacker techniques.
  4. Stay updated: Ensure apps and phone operating systems are up to date to benefit from the latest security patches, safeguarding against outdated scams.

The Emergence of AI-generated Scams: With the advent of AI technology, scams have become more sophisticated. Scammers can now mimic the voices of trusted individuals, such as relatives, bank representatives, or government officials, increasing the likelihood of victims trusting the caller and sharing sensitive information. AI also enables scammers to automate the vishing process, making multiple simultaneous calls and expanding the scale and reach of their attacks.

To safeguard against such scams, it is crucial to remain vigilant and take precautions. Refrain from sharing sensitive information over the phone, verify the identity of callers before divulging any information, and consider using two-factor authentication for sensitive accounts.

By staying informed, exercising caution, and leveraging available security measures, individuals and businesses can protect themselves from the rising threat of WhatsApp missed call scams in India.


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