South Africa

Victims of WhatsApp number-porting scam speak out

Victims of WhatsApp number-porting scam speak out

Johannesburg - Many people, including celebrities, have recently been victims of a number-porting scam where their cellphone numbers are used in soliciting money from their contacts.

Victims from several different service providers, including legendary broadcaster Bob Mabena, took to social media to complain about the racket where the scammers transfer or port a number from one network provider and transfer it to another without the owner’s knowledge.

They then gain access to the victim’s WhatApps and request donations and loans for an emergency. Victims would normally be requested to send the cash via eWallet which does not require any form of the recipient’s identification when they collect the money from the ATM.

Blame has been placed at the door of cellphone shops for allowing people to port numbers without producing their IDs.

A victim of the scam Shadi Baloyi said she could not access her WhatsApp on her work phone and was shortly called by her colleagues asking if she was okay after they received messages from her number asking for R2 500 because she had been arrested.

Baloyi said she posted on social media and warned her contacts and colleagues.

“Unfortunately by that time, our intern had already sent money to that person and it became an issue because she thought I was lying and that I was scamming her,” she said.

Baloyi said the matter was escalated to the police. However it wasn’t resolved.

“This damages your reputation because others think you are a scammer,” she said.

Another victim Nonkululeko Njilo said she received a message from Cell C saying her number was ported and then a few hours later she did not have internet access.

Njilo said she went to work the next day and her colleagues also questioned her about a message that was almost identical to the message Baloyi’s contacts received.

“They even tried to access my mobile banking App. I got an email from the bank because I used the same number but the scammers couldn’t get the pin,” she said.

Njilo said she had to go to a Cell C store where they made a request with MTN to reverse the porting and she changed her number.

World Wide Worx data analyst Bryan Turner said how scammers ported their victims’ numbers varied from one network provider to the next.

“In some cases it’s as easy as walking into a store and saying: ‘Hey I lost my simcard, my number is 12345679. Can you please port it?’,” he said.

Turner says the legal porting process requires customers to present their Rica documentation, to be verified before it is approved.

“This also varies from branch to branch so one can’t really point fingers at network providers because it is their stores that are either under-trained or they are in on the scam,” Turner said.

He also there were ways for scammers to gain access to the victims’ contact lists.

Scammers will send an SMS posing as either Google or Apple informing the victim that there is a problem and requesting them to sign in from a link. The victims are redirected to an identical website where they type in their username and passwords and this goes directly to the scammer.

Turner said this method was significant because a lot of phone contacts are automatically saved to Google Contacts or iCloud.

MTN executive of corporate affairs Jacqui O’Sullivan said the network had been the recipient network in the majority of known cases and therefore the porting process had not been initiated by MTN. 

“In an effort to protect our customers from this type of fraud, MTN has been rolling out in-store biometrics as an additional layer of security to further halt such criminal activity,” O’Sullivan said.

Vodacom spokesperson Byron Kennedy said the majority of the network’s port requests were legitimate and that they had not seen a spike in this type of activity in recent days. Kennedy added that number porting was regulated by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) who published new regulations last year to provide greater protection regarding the porting process but the effective date of these new regulations was still pending.

“While we continuously enhance measures to protect customers from fraudulent activity, we are restricted in terms of what we can do from a porting perspective until such time the new Icasa regulations come into effect,” he said.

PROTECT YOUR WHATSAPP PROFILE FROM PORTING SCAM 

All WhatsApp users can protect themselves from being scammed by activating the two-step authentication facility offered by the system.

To do this, open WhatsApp, select Settings, then Account and then the TwoStep verification. You will then be asked to enter and confirm a six-number password.

If someone tries to set up a new WhatsApp account on a different phone, they will be asked for the password. 

Another method is to activate the show security notifications in WhatsApp.

To do this, go into WhatsApp, select Settings, then Account and then Security. Enable Show Security Notifications to receive notifications when a contact’s security code has changed. Consumers messages and calls are also secure with end-to-end encryption.