Avoiding the WhatsApp Supermarket Scam

WhatsApp has fast become one of the best messaging apps available for all smartphone platforms, including Android and iOS, and though the software itself is very secure and encrypted, there are still ways that you could fall victim to a scam when using the application.

Most recently, scammers have been using WhatsApp to con people out of their personal details by promising supermarket coupons that don't even exist. You’d input your details in the hope of getting a voucher worth hundreds of pounds, but nothing would materialise.

How does the supermarket scam work?

First, you’ll receive a message through WhatsApp with a rather convincing message that promises a free supermarket voucher, usually due to a supermarket celebrating an anniversary that may not even be accurate. Within this message, there is a link that will take you to a website; this link uses the name of the supermarket being targeted, but the scammers introduce a small variation on one of the letters. Here are some examples of what you might expect to see:

If you look closely at the above links, you can see that they are not actually the true supermarket websites. In the Asda link, there is a small apostrophe-like character after the ‘D’. The Tesco link contains a small accentuation above the ‘O’, and the Lidl website has a cross through the ‘L’.

When you tap on one of the scammer’s fake links, rather than taking you to the supermarket giant’s website, you are taken to a website that mimics a survey. This is where the scams may vary, as you could be asked for any level of personal information, which may or may not include your financial account details. Some have even been reported to install suspicious malware (malicious software) on victims’ devices that may collect your data as you use the device.

Normally, these types of dodgy message originate from an unknown contact. For example, if you receive an unsolicited text message directly to your phone from a number that isn’t stored in your contacts, then you’d be more likely to ignore it. However, the success of this scam is that it relies on the good nature of your friends and family to spread like a virus. When just one person falls victim, and fills in the fake survey, they will be asked to forward the link to up to 20 of their contacts to ‘obtain their voucher’.

This means that if the message is forwarded to you, it will have come directly from somebody that you trust, rather than an unknown contact. If you have a message history with that person stored in WhatsApp, it will even slot directly into the same chain of messages that you have had with that person, further improving the appearance of authenticity.

How can I identify a suspicious message?

Most of these specific scam messages look the same; an explanation that a supermarket chain is offering free vouchers, followed by the suspect link. One of the first things that you can do is to carefully examine the link; there will always be a small alteration in the normal website name, as we have highlighted above. It is next to impossible for a scammer to hijack the website of a company this large, so the real website name will never be used.

If in doubt, type out the full link name yourself into your browser, ensuring that you only use normal keyboard characters; most likely, the link will not exist. Alternatively, if you open the link and remove anything after the ‘.com’, then for real websites, the supermarket’s homepage should appear. If it is a fake link, then there will be no homepage.

The best advice is one of the oldest sayings; ‘if it looks too good to be true, it probably is’. Certainly, with this scam, you should never click on the link. However, if you’re still unsure for future messages, discuss the origin of the message with your contact, or even with WiseGuys.

WiseGuys can help

Though the good news is that many scammers still use poor grammar or bad design on scam messages and emails, some are getting smarter and can be harder to spot, especially when they take advantage of known contacts to spread the scam around.

If you’re in doubt about a message that you have received from friends or family, or perhaps if you or a friend have input your details into one of these fake websites and would like some advice, then you can contact WiseGuys on 0808 123 2820.