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IT Ministry takes note of rising WhatsApp spam calls and texts


The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has taken cognizance of increasing spam calls and texts on WhatsApp from international numbers, which Entrackr had reported last week.

Union minister of state for Electronics and Technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar on Wednesday said that the ministry will send notice to WhatsApp over the matter.

“It is a part of the normal scope of activity of MeitY. We ask questions proactively and they will respond… Platforms are responsible to ensure safety and trust. Openness, safety and trust and accountability are the responsibility of the company,” Chandrasekhar is quoted as saying.

He added that the ministry is looking at factors such as how these numbers were leaked, whether any database was leaked or are bots being abused to do so.

Heart of the matter

As reported by Entrackr last week, a number of WhatsApp users in India are facing a lot of spam calls from international numbers, such as starting with +84 (code for Vietnam), and +223 (code for Mali). Twitter and other social networking platforms are awash with such complaints and screenshots of calls.

It is worth noting that most of these international calls and texts are aimed at committing fraud. For instance, users are asked to like a video on YouTube to earn money. In some cases, the sender pretends to be the HR representative of a well-known company.

The wave of such fraud and spam calls and texts on WhatsApp is unprecedented. India is home to nearly 500 million users, also one of the largest markets for WhatsApp.

Ritesh Bhatia, founding director of V4WEB Cybersecurity, had explained to Entrackr that it was plausible that scammers may have bought VoIP numbers for WhatsApp online to target users. He pointed out that purchasing such virtual numbers for the purpose of using only WhatsApp is also quite easy.

WhatsApp’s countermeasures

Entrackr understands that WhatsApp is already aware about such fraud calls and texts from international numbers on the instant messaging platform.

“Protecting the privacy and security of users is fundamental to Meta and to WhatsApp. Our users are at the heart of everything we do and we are fully aligned with the Government’s goal of keeping users safe. WhatsApp is a leader among end-to-end encrypted services in protecting user safety,” a WhatsApp spokesperson said in a statement.

“We continue to provide several safety tools within WhatsApp like Block & Report, consistently build user safety education and awareness, as well as, proactively weed out bad-actors from our platform. However, bad actors find different ways to scam users. International scam calls is a new way that bad actors have recently adopted. By giving a missed call, they lead curious
users to call or message back only to get scammed,” the statement added.

The spokesperson further said that WhatsApp has now ramped up its AI & ML systems to bring down such incidents significantly.

“Our new enforcement will reduce the current calling rate by at least 50% and we expect to be able to control the current incidence effectively. We will continue to work relentlessly towards ensuring a safe experience for our users,” the spokesperson said.

Update: The story has been updated to include statement from WhatsApp’s spokesperson.

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