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Friend in Need…or FAKE Friend? How to Spot the WhatsApp Scam Targeting Hong Kong Users!

– Beware: Over 130 hit by WhatsApp scams in HK, losing HK$1.7M.
– Scammers exploit QR codes & phishing to hijack accounts.



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NEW DELHI: Like India, Hong Kong police have alerted residents to a sophisticated scam operation involving the popular messaging app, WhatsApp. According to the police, online fraudsters have hijacked WhatsApp accounts, using them to swindle friends and relatives of the account owners. This alarming scam has already claimed more than 130 victims in just a single week, resulting in a financial loss exceeding HK$1.7 million (approximately US$217,300).

These scams are similar to scams Indians have been facing in the digital world. the problems in the digital world remain the same across different geographical boundaries.  The scam typically unfolds with victims receiving messages from fraudsters who have assumed the identities of their friends or relatives on WhatsApp. These imposters often concoct emergencies, urgently requesting financial assistance. Many victims have fallen prey to these deceitful appeals, only to discover the scam upon speaking directly with the supposed sender.

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Fraudsters gain access to WhatsApp accounts by tricking users into revealing their verification codes through phishing attempts or by encouraging them to scan a QR code, which then links the victim’s account to the fraudster’s device. Once in control, they exploit the compromised accounts to target contacts with requests for money, further perpetuating the scam.

The Hong Kong police have responded to this growing threat by issuing a public warning on their CyberDefender Facebook page. They advise the public to exercise caution, particularly when receiving unexpected financial requests via message. They recommend verifying such requests through direct, personal communication before taking any action.

This scam is part of a larger trend of online fraud, which has seen a dramatic increase in Hong Kong. In 2023 alone, the police received 3,434 reports related to the theft of online accounts, a significant jump from the 168 cases reported in 2022. Financial losses from these scams have also risen, totaling HK$87.6 million in 2023.

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The authorities have been combatting WhatsApp scams since they first emerged in November 2017. Following an initial surge in reported cases, the police have continually advised the public on protective measures, such as enabling two-step verification for their WhatsApp accounts.

To assist the public in identifying potential scams, the police recommend using the “Scameter” search engine available on the CyberDefender website. This tool can help identify suspicious web addresses, emails, platform usernames, bank accounts, phone numbers, and IP addresses.

The rise in scams is part of a broader increase in deception crimes in the city, which saw a 42.6% jump to 39,824 cases last year, with financial losses nearly doubling to HK$9.1 billion.

Residents are urged to remain vigilant and informed to protect themselves and their loved ones from falling victim to these increasingly sophisticated online scams.

Spot the WhatsApp Hijacking Scam: Stay Safe in 3 Steps!

  1. Verify Before You Pay: Don’t rush! If a friend or family member asks for money on WhatsApp, call them directly to confirm. A quick phone call can save you a big headache.
  2. Beware of Phishing: Don’t click on suspicious links or scan unknown QR codes. These could be traps to steal your account info.
  3. Two-Step is Your Friend: Enable two-step verification on WhatsApp. This extra layer of security makes it much harder for scammers to hijack your account.

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