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Yong Li Xuan
The Straits Times
Nov 2, 2023
Mr Louis did not think much when he received a WhatsApp message from his close friend Amer Shazally Rosni on Wednesday afternoon asking for a $3,500 loan, and sent the money immediately via PayNow.
But “Mr Amer” texted again, asking for the money to be transferred to another account as he could not access his bank account.
Mr Louis, a sales specialist who was busy with a customer at work then, followed the instructions and made another transfer of $3,500 to the account specified by “Mr Amer”.
Alarm bells went off in Mr Louis’ head only when “Mr Amer” sent another WhatsApp message asking for more money.
“I suspected something was off only after I made the second transfer of $3,500, when the scammer said it was not enough,” said the 38-year-old, who declined to give his surname.
Mr Louis immediately called Mr Amer, who is also his colleague. Mr Amer said he had not sent any of the WhatsApp messages.
It was only then that they realised that a scammer had accessed Mr Amer’s WhatsApp account and messaged seven people in his contacts asking for money.
The scammer even archived the chats with these people, so Mr Amer would not notice these conversations happening in the background. Archived chats on the popular messaging app do not show up in the list of chats and are accessible in a separate folder.
Mr Louis said he felt “sian” (a Hokkien term used to indicate the feeling of being caught in a bothersome situation). He told The Straits Times that he would be able to recover the $3,500 sent to his colleague, but he does not think he will get the rest of the money he transferred to the scammer.
To Mr Amer’s knowledge, Mr Louis was the only one who transferred money to the scammer.
The 37-year-old, who works in the automotive industry, said: “I realised only when Louis called me, asking me if I received any money. I was a bit shocked, and panicked also.”
He recalled scanning a QR code to log in to the WhatsApp Web on his laptop on Wednesday morning.
Mr Amer said he logged out of all his linked devices at about 6pm that evening and used WhatsApp only on his mobile phone after that.
“I don’t dare to use WhatsApp Web any more,” he added.
Mr Amer and Mr Louis have filed police reports. The police confirmed that a report was lodged and investigations are under way.
This follows a recent spate of scams where WhatsApp accounts are infiltrated and scammers message contacts of victims asking for money or personal information.
AsiaOne reported on Thursday that local actress Aileen Tan received a WhatsApp message on Tuesday from her “husband” asking for money.
Her husband Gerald Lee called her later to tell her that the scammer had called his sister in Hong Kong asking her to transfer money to a bank account.
The 57-year-old shared the WhatsApp chat log in an Instagram post to alert others that her husband’s account had been hacked and not to transfer cash to the scammer’s account.
User Edwin Ker posted on Facebook on Oct 26 that his WhatsApp account had been compromised by a scammer as well.
He wrote in the post: “If you receive the message similar to below from my mobile number on WhatsApp, it’s a scam. Please do not transfer any money.”
He included a screenshot of a WhatsApp chat log where the scammer, who was impersonating Mr Ker, sent a photo of someone lying in what seems to be a hospital bed.
The police warned on Friday of fraudulent websites that “trick users into authorising access to their WhatsApp account for the scammers”.
In these cases, victims who wanted to use WhatsApp Web searched for the webpage on online search engines and clicked on the first few search results without verifying the webpage links.
The links took them to phishing websites embedded with the genuine QR code extracted from the official website of WhatsApp.
When victims scanned the QR code on the phishing website with their mobile phones, the page would become unresponsive and scammers would gain access to the victims’ WhatsApp accounts.
The scammers then messaged the victims’ contacts asking for personal details or money transfers, with victims realising that their WhatsApp accounts were compromised when informed by their contacts.
The police advised the public to always ensure that what they are using are the official WhatsApp Desktop App and the official WhatsApp Web webpage at web.whatsapp.com.
The public should not share WhatsApp account verification codes, and they should enable two-step verification on WhatsApp and check linked devices on WhatsApp regularly, the police added.
For more information on scams, the public can visit www.scamalert.sg or call the Anti-Scam Helpline on 1800-722-6688.