Personal Finance

Warning as sophisticated WhatsApp job scam cases soar 800% in a year

Job hunters are being warned after reports of a sophisticated and long-winded scam have soared.

The City of London Police, which investigates fraud cases around the country, said nearly £1 million has been pilfered from victims in the last year - up from just £20,000 the year before.

But this may just be "the tip of the iceberg" as cases are "hugely underreported", City of London Police Temporary Commander Oliver Shaw told the BBC.

Fraudsters pose as recruiters and over a series of phone calls and text messages extract all the information needed to make card payments in the victim's name. Sometimes they can add a virus to a phone or email to access details.

Information collected can mirror what you may expect a HR department to ask, such as name, address, date of birth and bank details.

Scammers may also ask for money up front to carry out checks such as DBS or security clearances. They can also ask to access a victim's laptop remotely to add programmes they claim can help them do the bogus job, when really they are adding malware to access sensitive information.

There are also 'task scams' circulating which promise good pay and flexible hours to complete simple tasks such as optimising data or giving online exposure to a business. Wages are often promised to be paid in cryptocurrency, but the fraudsters make it impossible to complete the required number of tasks without spending money to access the promised reward.

Around the world, more than £86m (€100m) is estimated to have been stolen from victims caught up in task scams, according to AI cybersecurity firm CloudSEK.

About 30 percent of people are thought to have been targeted by fake employment scams, according to a study published by communications regulator Ofcom in 2023.

Keith Rosser, group director of jobs site Reed and director and chair of workers’ rights group JobsAware, told Euronews Next the scams began in November 2022 and became "huge" from March 2023.

He said: "We’re receiving dozens of reports a day, specifically about WhatsApp-based scams copying the names of legitimate recruitment firms, both job boards and recruitment agencies.

"Seeing how many people talk about this, my gut feeling is this is massive and we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg."

How to avoid WhatsApp scams

According to Ofcom research shared in 2023, nearly half of Britons (46%) have been drawn in by an online scam. And a quarter of those had lost money as a result.

WhatsApp has become a popular place for scams with people managing to access individuals' accounts or use the messaging service to extract sensitive information.

This can be done by posing as people in large groups, or simply by messaging individuals pretending to be behind a service they may have signed up for.

Action Fraud, the City of London Police's national fraud team, urges individuals to be careful if asked for personal information.

To avoid being a victim it says:

  • Set up two-step verification to make it harder to access your account. (To to do go to Settings > Account > Two-step verification > Enable.)
  • Never share your account's two-factor authentication code.
  • If a friend or family makes an unusual request on WhatsApp, or sends messages that don't sound like them, call the person to confirm their identity.
  • Report spam messages or block a sender in WhatsApp. Press and hold on the message bubble, select ‘Report’ and then follow the instructions.
  • You can also report scam texts by forwarding it to 7726 (which spells SPAM on a keyboard). Spam emails can be forwarded to [email protected].

Speaking previously, Mr Shaw said: “We urge people always to be wary when receiving contact via WhatsApp or other messaging platforms. This is particularly the case when being asked to provide account information – despite the fact that you may recognise the individual’s profile picture and / or name.

“Never share your account information with anyone, and if you think it’s a fraudulent approach, report the message and block the sender within WhatsApp. To make your account more secure, we advise setting up two-step verification to provide an extra layer of protection. This makes it increasingly more difficult for fraudsters to gain access to somebody else’s WhatsApp account”.

Victims of cyber crime can report it at or by calling 0300 123 2040, or for those in Scotland call 101.

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Helen Barnett

Helen is a journalist, editor and copywriter with 15 years' experience writing across print and digital publications. She previously edited the Daily Express website and has won awards as a reporter. Read more here.


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