Remember how some of your friends were convinced a few months back that Amazon -- founded by Jeff Bezos in 1994 -- was giving away free gifts through a promotional event to mark their 30th anniversary? By the time they were convinced it was a scam and no Santa Claus was coming with free gadgets, they had already spammed many more over WhatsApp. Although no after-effects were reported, thousands fell prey to the fraud and the forwarding cycle went on for a few days before it eventually died down.
WhatsApp users, be alert! The 'anniversary' scam is back in town again. This time it is Lulu Hypermarket that is celebrating its '20th anniversary' by giving away freebies. Trusting the logo on the top left of the page, thousands have shared the link over WhatsApp in Kerala alone believing the 'promotion' to be real. When contacted by The New Indian Express, a Lulu source confirmed that the hypermarket group is not conducting any such promotional events and concerned authorities have been notified.
"We urge all our loyal shoppers across the world to not fall for such fake campaigns and websites. Also, we wish to request our customers never to share any personal details, bank account or credit card numbers on such websites or any other suspicious links. We wish to reiterate that all our genuine offers are only posted on our official social media accounts and websites," an official statement later released by Lulu Group said.
What is it?
When clicked, the widely shared URL -- which is the first part of the scam -- takes you to a web page that welcomes you with a big bold "Congratulations!" on top and dated July 14.
"You will have a chance to get Huawei Mate 40 Pro 8 GB + 256 GB (bright black)," announces the screen before showing a questionnaire of four questions. Once the last of the four is given a positive response, another webpage containing six gift boxes loads. When tapped on, the boxes open revealing what the user is getting for part of the competition along with the "THE RULES" to claim the reward.
They are asked to send the promotional link to 20 WhatsApp contacts or 5 groups before coming back to submit their address so that the 'gift' can be delivered 'within 5-7 days'.
Once the URL is sent to enough contacts/groups, the page automatically proceeds to a new window that demands to complete registration by downloading an application and keeping it open for 30 seconds. The page consists of a box to enter Captcha and a download button.
Except for slight changes in the interface, the modus operandi and content of the new scam is the same as the Amazon one. The proprietors have not even changed the name and model of the device named as first prize. Yet, people keep falling for it in large numbers time after time. Such WhatsApp forward scams involve major security threats to user information and people need to avoid them, experts say.
According to cybersecurity expert Shubhamangala Sunil, the objective of such cyber scandals is threefold -- traffic generation, data theft and market creation. She claims a cyberworld mafia exists to design and launch campaigns like these.
"We have worked on these cases. They want to generate traffic for their clients. Maximum advertisements are possible when there is excellent traffic on your website. Once you have good traffic flow, it will even reflect on your company's stock rates," said Shubhamangala, who is the Founder Chairperson, Cyber Security Response Team (CSRT).
"It is simple logic, nobody will believe that an unknown company is giving away freebies. But if we quote big players/companies, people will fall for it since they know the brand already. This is why they choose famous brands," she added.
The groups involved could be brokers whose job is to find sellers to find potential buyers. "For example, imagine an anti-virus company has hired these brokers to increase their market. Your device will be hit by malware or virus when you engage in freebie scams like these. This will result in the anti-virus industry blooming," Shubhamangala explained.
Don't download, don't share
Most users stop engaging with these links when they are asked to download a file. Many are cyber literate enough to understand that files downloaded from unknown sources are likely to be harmful software or malware. But the WhatsApp forwards and links are widely shared as it is believed that doing so poses no threat. However, Shubhamangala warns against this.
"Sometimes the threat has already reached your device by clicking on the link, there is no need to download any file. Traffic generation and data collection is one thing and spreading the virus is another. These mafias have assembled multiple teams to carry out all these objectives with a single scam," the expert said.