HOUSTON – We’ve told you about hackers taking over cell phones and apps to drain bank accounts. Or, how they can even copy the caller ID to make it look like someone you know is calling asking for money. Now, a warning about the popular WhatsApp messaging platform. Plus, we will tell you what all device users should know before downloading any app.
Stranger gets into messaging app, asks contacts for money
WhatsApp is free and is being used by two billion people. It’s a common way for people to message each other, especially those with families in other countries, like Mexico. That’s why one Houston woman said her lifeline is gone after what happened to her account.
“They call me again and call me and like, so quickly,” explained Karla Ruiz.
After a random set of calls, Karla Ruiz’s WhatsApp stopped working. Then, strangers took over her account and started reaching out to her contacts.
“They are asking for money in different ways. They don’t have like the same pattern for the asking,” she said.
Here’s one way this happens. The attacker sends repeated one-time codes to your phone asking to reset the account. That was all of those calls Ruiz was getting.
“They had been stealing my information. I went to my voicemail, and I saw all the codes in there,” Ruiz explains.
Then the scammers contact WhatsApp saying they’ve lost the phone and need to deactivate that number and add a new one. They add their own number - now having access to your account and all of your contacts. Ruiz’s not exactly sure that is what happened to her, but somehow thieves got into her account.
“If you feel like is the thing that you feel is horrible because the truth even knows how they are stealing your information,” said Ruiz.
Luckily, none of Ruiz’s friends fell for the money ask. After waiting seven days, she now has her account back and she’s using the two-step authentication to log in.
WhatsApp always working to keep user information secure
WhatsApp - owned by Facebook - said they have a two-step verification process that helps prevent this from happening. Just like other apps, developers are constantly working to add security features. WhatsApp recently added high-tech encrypting.
They sent us a statement that in part reads: “The most important thing to know about WhatsApp is that we are end-to-end encrypted by default, which means nobody except the sender and the recipient of a message can read it - including WhatsApp.” (We’ve posted the full statement below.)
Protecting your personal information while using apps
The Federal Trade Commission explains a few things to look for to help keep your personal information safe while using an app.
- When you install any app, know about the privacy settings and what you are sharing. This could be contacts, pictures even your microphone or camera. Most apps will allow you to change these settings.
- If the app has access to your location, think about limiting access to only when the app is in use.
- Don’t sign into apps using a social network account - so the data is not shared across platforms.
- Keep apps updated. Out-of-date software may be at risk of being hacked. You can go to the app store on your device and you will see what apps have new updates that you need to install.
- To avoid any unnecessary data collection, delete apps you are not using anymore.
A WhatsApp spokesperson wanted to make sure we share more information about stolen accounts. Here is more from the information they sent:
“We advise all users never to share their WhatsApp SMS verification code with others, not even friends or family. We also recommend that all users set up 2-step verification for added security.”
Staying safe on WhatsApp: The safety and security of you and your messages matter to us. We want you to know about the tools and features we’ve designed to help you stay safe while using WhatsApp. We also provide some links to other resources that can help you generally stay safe online.
Hoax messages: You may have received spam from an unauthorized third party and not WhatsApp. We’re always working to reduce any spam messages that come through our system. Creating a safe space for users to communicate with one another is a priority. However, just like regular SMS or phone calls, it is possible for other WhatsApp users who have your phone number to contact you. Thus, we want to help you identify and handle these messages.
How to block and report contacts: You can stop receiving messages, calls and status updates from certain contacts by blocking them. You can also report them if you think they are sending problematic content or spam. If you receive a message on WhatsApp from someone who is not in your contacts, the first question we ask is if you want to block or report them.
For more information and resources on how to stay safe while using Whatsapp, visit the website.