Local scammers have started adding targets to WhatsApp groups

We are no strangers to scammers here in the Hypertext offices. We often receive messages and emails urging us to take part in some sort of “once in a lifetime” opportunity and we tend to wave these off. This morning, however, we experienced something we’ve never seen before.

Shortly after logging on for the day my phone vibrated with a notification from WhatsApp. I had been added to the Gecko Digital marketing group. Confused, I moved to type a message thinking this was some new tactic from a public relations firm to stay in touch with media.

Only, I could not send a message, as messages could only be sent by the group’s administrators. Red Flag number one.

I then contacted the administrator directly stating I didn’t ask to join this group and who added me.

“kindly check the details on the group”, the admin responded. While this was red flag number two, I complied.

On that request, I discovered the group was for SOMS Digital Company, a legitimate company based in Sandton. While chatting to the admin, the group continued posting content including an address in KwaZulu-Natal. Red flag number three.

At this stage I fired up Google and searched for Gecko Digital and SOMS Marketing. A search for Gecko was fruitless as countless companies use that name so trying to determine which were real and which weren’t would take a long time. Instead I checked SOMS Marketing which I found rather easily.

Gecko or SOMS?

Heading to the company’s contact page we discovered this blog post.

The blog highlights a scam that uses the marketing agency’s name. The scam promises targets they will earn up to R600 – R3 000 per day by liking and subscribing to YouTube channels or filing reviews for businesses on Google.

The scam asks you to do a few of these activities for free before asking you to pay R1 000 to access “premium tasks”. As you may suspect, once you pay that fee, you will never hear from the scammers again.

We were added by a number which, when called, goes straight to voicemail. A Truecaller search told us the number is assigned to a person named Thabo, but Truecaller data can be inconsistent in our experience and the original owner could’ve abandoned the number.

We were removed from the group before we could gather more information.

The blog from the legitimate SOMS Digital channel highlights a scam with a one-to-one interaction, but in this instance we were added to a group. We suppose this allows the ne’er-do-wells to target more people and any folks like us who ask questions are kicked before they can warn others.

Unfortunately for the scammers, we have the potential to reach far more people.

If you are suddenly added to a group like this, we urge you to leave it immediately. We’d recommend turning off the ability for people to add you to groups but this could prove problematic when joining community WhatsApp groups and the like.

The risk that you will lose money is high but there is potential for the scammers to use your information again for other scams and attacks. Much like scam callers would cold call a number and then hang up to see if it was active, scammers can take note of who responded before getting cold feet and craft better techniques.

We tried contacting SOMS Digital for comment but its automated call system claimed that all numbers were busy. Thankfully, the company has noted that its name is being abused and it states clearly in the aforementioned blog post that it will never advertise vacancies on WhatsApp or Telegram.

For those looking for work, we urge you to be vigilant as regards these scams, you may find yourself worse off after taking the opportunity than if you had just ignored it.


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