A fictitious smartphone application dubbed 'WhatsAppSpy' was too tempting to resist for thousands of users who got stung in one of the latest Internet scams. Thanks to their gullibility, a 23 year-old from Murcia, Spain pocketed more than 53,000 dollars in only two months time.
According to Spanish language news service EFE, the bait was a fictitious application that supposedly let users intercept messages sent via WhatsApp, one of the most popular instant messaging services around. Once the bait was prepared, the fraudster went fishing for fools on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. He managed to reel in over 11,000 subscribers who wanted to spy on the private messages of friends, co-workers, family, lovers, etc. – all 'in real time, without any problems' and 'absolutely free!'
For the alleged spy app to work, the suckers who took the bait had to visit the 'WhatsAppSpy' webpage to sign-up. Once they did that, they were redirected to another site which asked for their phone number in order to send them a code to download the application directly onto their device. This is where they got hooked: what the user actually did by entering his/her number was to subscribe to a 'premium messaging service.' In short, they would pay to receive a series of advertisements with costs ranging from $2 to $10 a message. Of course, a percentage of the money collected went to the conman behind 'WhatsAppSpy' for 'referring' the users to the 'service.'
Interestingly, none of the thousands of people who fell for this hustle contacted the police after realizing they had been duped. Perhaps this was because they felt the amount they ended up having to pay was too small to be considered much of a theft; perhaps they worried that in signing up for such an 'Internet spying' service they had committed a crime themselves; or perhaps they were just too ashamed.
Despite the absence of complaints from victims, rumors of an an application that allowed people to intercept messages sent via WhatsApp circulated on the Internet and eventually reached Spanish authorities, who found that the offer really existed. Police then located the site's creator in Murcia and pulled the plug on the operation.
Investigators are analyzing the alleged perpetrator's computer and four hard drives to try to determine if any others were involved in the crime.