Why WhatsApp has become a fertile ground for job-offer scams

    Why WhatsApp has become a fertile ground for job-offer scams

    Scammers have been misusing the messaging platform, taking advantage of its end-to-end encryption to lure in and swindle gullible job seekers while staying beyond the reach of the law.

    Piyush Chowdhary, 25, a fan of mobile games, claims to be a master of short-burst games — a category involving small missions that need to be completed in a short span. Last month, while playing, he received a pop-up message about a job offer from a “game design firm”.

    Chowdhary signed up and was directed to WhatsApp. Soon, however, as part of the ‘verification process’, he was asked for an investment, which the messages assured him would be refunded after the test. He transferred Rs 500 through UPI and the money was instantly refunded once the task was complete.

    The next step involved a psychometric test, which again required a verification fee of Rs 1,000 with a similar promise of a refund. This, too, happened as promised. After filling in his basic personal details, Chowdhary was overjoyed when the company claimed that it was beginning the onboarding process.

    Within five minutes, he received an online form requiring details such as graduation degrees, 10+2 percentage, area of interest and a screenshot of how to make payment of Rs 5,000 for a mandatory background verification. Since the trust had been built, Chowdhury did not hesitate to follow through.

    Once the process was completed, Chowdhury typed a one-word message, ‘submitted’, and sent it. More than a month on, the message carries a single tick mark, implying it has not been delivered. Simply put, he was duped out of Rs 5,000 in seeking a job.

    Chowdhury is among the multitude of people falling prey to job scams on WhatsApp, where fraudsters are targeting over 400 million users in India.
    From using fake details and setting up an account to misusing end-to-end encryption to escape law enforcement agencies, WhatsApp is a fertile ground for such scams.

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    Experts say the scammers pretend to represent top-notch firms, offer quick money, and are very professional in their conduct. This leads people like Chowdhury to take the bait. However, this modus operandi is also damaging the brand of the employer the scammers claim to be representing.

    Evolving modus operandi

    Experts say job scams are not exactly a recent trend but are highly prevalent in the current job market, with the ranks of the unemployed swelling. There are some new tricks that Indian scamsters have learnt from their Nigerian counterparts, who have been running these scams for many years.

    Recently Sudhakar Raja, Founder and CEO of TRST Score, an online background check service, observed that a famous job scam model was becoming prevalent in India. Here, people are asked to commit to small tasks that they can do over the phone for which they will be paid. The promises usually revolve around having to do just 2-4 hours of work per day to earn Rs 2,000-4,000 daily. They usually start by paying a gullible person small sums of up to Rs 1,000 a day and then start asking her to pay money to buy into bigger tasks in order to be able to make more. By the time she realises something is fishy, it is too late to get the money back.

    Examples of scammers approaching WhatsApp users

    According to Raja, another scam involves duping applicants on legitimate job sites. “Scamsters (who have ways to access profiles on such sites) connect to you claiming to be representatives of the job site saying that they can enhance your profile’s reach on the site for a small payment. They go on to share a link that looks legitimate for a small amount of Rs 10-20,” he said.

    When the transaction is initiated using your card the amount deducted is over Rs 10,000-20,000.

    “The government regulates text messaging services and has managed to curb a lot of the scams that were prevalent over SMS and MMS services. Whatsapp allows scammers to bypass any such security measures,” Raja said.

    A dent in employer branding

    The pain point of the issue is that the majority of such scams happen with academically well-versed and educated candidates who are desperately looking for jobs. Besides, when things go haywire, they take to social media in an attempt to name and shame companies, which they think are somehow responsible for the menace.

    Though major companies such as Air Asia, L&T and Dabur, among others, constantly circulate communications warning candidates about fake job offers, experts say the damage has already been done.

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    “Candidates who fall victim to such scams may associate the negative experience with the legitimate company, leading to a loss of trust and reputation,” said Sanjay Kaushik, MD at corporate security and risk consulting firm Netrika Consulting.

    According to Kaushik, companies need to educate candidates about these scams, maintain strong security measures and promptly address any reports of fraudulent activities to protect their brand image.

    How to stay away from such scams

    There are ample ways in which candidates can cross-verify the information shared by scamsters. The first golden rule is to trust your instincts — there is no such thing as easy money.

    If something feels too good to be true or raises suspicion, trust your instincts and proceed with caution, said Kaushik, adding that legitimate employers do not approach people through informal channels such as WhatsApp, let alone ask for payment from candidates to apply for a job.

    One foolish mistake candidates usually make is to try to play with scammers despite knowing the job offer is a scam. They keep on sharing personal and professional details in an attempt to “outplay” these scammers. However, the scammers always win. Even if the scammers do not dupe candidates with money, they collate enough data to reattempt the scam with the same candidates later.

    “Candidates should be cautious in sharing sensitive personal information, such as social security numbers, bank account details, or copies of official documents,” Kaushik said.

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