South Africans have been complaining about a new scam on WhatsApp that uses number porting to access users’ contacts and extort money. Find out how you can protect yourself.

The scammers are using number porting to take control of people’s WhatsApp accounts and messaging certain contacts asking for money or ewallet services. Number porting allows users to change the service provider and keep the same number using a different sim card. This allows them to hijack a user’s WhatsApp and receive confirmatory SMSes from the app.

Once they have successfully ported the number, they gain access to your WhatsApp contacts and are able to message these parties impersonating the user.

In the past, number porting was used to intercept One-Time Pin numbers (OTP) and gain access to your bank accounts and services by cloning credit cards or stealing bank login info. This time around the scammers are using WhatsApp to message contacts and ask them for money pretending to be the right user. With the FNB ewallet services, for example, they can receive a code to access the money sent and the cash becomes available at any ATM.

Network providers say the scam has only affected a few users at the moment and it is still unknown how widespread this could be. Here’s how you can protect yourself.

1. Enable your security encryption notifications on WhatsApp

Some people turn off their security notifications on WhatsApp because they get annoyed with the constant updates. Turn these back on by opening WhatsApp, click on the three dots on your top right, click settings < account < security and activate the button that reads: “Show security notifications”.

This will allow you to get security notifications if a “friend” messages you after changing their security code or usual number.

2. Check any porting messages

When a scammer is trying to port your number, you will normally receive an SMS from your service provider asking for your permission. If you ignore this message, it is taken as having granted permission. Follow the instructions on the message or call your service provider immediately.

3. Don’t ignore any loss of signal on your phone

If you lose signal all of a sudden and you are not in a remote area or haven’t run out of data, assume that you are being scammed. When someone has successfully ported your number, you might lose signal as your sim card may no longer be active.

4. Don’t turn off your phone if you get annoying calls

Some scammers call your number a few times so that you get annoyed and turn off your phone when they try to port your number. Always keep your phone on and rather keep it on silent but check notifications regularly.

5. Don’t register a new WhatsApp account

If you get a new phone or switch phones often, do not register a new WhatsApp account, rather update your current one. Scammers impersonate users who abandoned their cellphone numbers, which are then recycled by service providers. If you switch numbers, just change the number associated with your WhatsApp account instead of registering a new account. Also, inform your contacts of your number change.

6. Enable the pin function on WhatsApp

For additional security, WhatsApp has a two-step verification that requires a pin when registering a new number. Activate the pin by clicking on “settings”, “account”, and then “two-step verification”. This measure, however, comes at a risk. You need to associate an email address with the pin but if you lose access to the address or forget your pin, you will be in trouble. WhatsApp will also ask for the pin from time to time, which could get annoying.

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