WhatsApp is a social media platform that has simplified communication in this digital era. However, some people use it as an opportunity to practice ‘theft’—identity theft.
Identity theft is when someone steals your personal information in order to take over or open new accounts, file fake tax returns, rent or buy properties, or do other criminal things in your name.
Criminals have found opportunity in using victims’ WhatsApp identity in order to commit fraud (borrowing money on behalf of the victim through money transfers like MTN Mobile Money, Tigo Cash, and Airtel Money) or for harassment, among others.
How do they do it?
The criminal has to know the victim’s mobile number (07XXXXXXXX). They register the number on their smartphone, WhatsApp and wait for the account to be verified.
WhatsApp then sends an SMS that contains a verification code, to the authentic SIM card owned by the victim.
In order to get the verification code, the criminal calls the victim or sends them an SMS or WhatsApp or other social media used by the victim; claiming that there is a message mistakenly delivered to the victim by WhatsApp and therefore needs to be sent (or read) to the criminal.
Once the criminal is in possession of the verification code, he or she places the code and gains control of the victim’s account.
The criminal has direct access to all groups that the victim is subscribed to and when using WhatsApp Web (used on computers), the thief can also access the chat history of the victim.
After that, the criminal can choose a contact on the victim’s contact list (either in chat history or group members) and write to them requesting to transfer money to a third party number.
Not only that, the criminal continues by gaining control of other WhatsApp accounts to scheme some more.
ICT systems auditor at the National Bank of Rwanda, Jean de Dieu Uwimana, says that social media identity theft is something that every internet user should be aware of.
Lock WhatsApp; your device lock screen feature is not enough security to protect your WhatsApp account. So you have to lock your WhatsApp for more security.
“WhatsApp carelessness can quickly spill over into identity theft if users aren’t on top of their privacy protection game,” he explains.
Always logout from WhatsApp Web; log out from all computers that you see in the list under WhatsApp Web. This will stop hackers from reading your chats further.
He says that findings prove that people need to be more cautious about protecting their identity, especially on social media.
In any circumstance do not share the content of an SMS received from WhatsApp (confirmation code), when opening the WhatsApp account.
Enable WhatsApp two step verification; go to settings, account, two-step verification, and choose a six digit code that will allow you to verify your account.
Do not share your phone with anyone; you should not share your phone with strangers because anyone can steal your WhatsApp account, data, or install spying software.
Do not install apps from unauthorised or unknown sources. Always install apps from Google Play Store. Please check developer details, ratings, reviews of any app before installing it on your phone.
Do not connect your phone to unknown Wi-Fi connections as hackers can also use the unique MAC address to access all your WhatsApp chats.
Uwimana advises to familiarise yourself with the functionality of the social media website before broadcasting messages on the site. Who will be able to see your messages—only specified recipients, or all users.