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Debunked: No, this 'very urgent' message telling you that your bank details can be robbed by making a phone call isn't true

The latest WhatsApp message doing the rounds is debunked here.

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Have you gotten a message on WhatsApp or Facebook or Twitter about coronavirus that you’re not sure about and want us to check it out? Message or mail us and we’ll look into debunking it. WhatsApp: 085 221 4696 or Email: answers@thejournal.ie 

THE LATEST IN a string of Whatsapp messages doing the rounds while a great many of us are at home during the Covid-19 outbreak claims that returning a phone call from a number with a certain international area code could cost you a lot of money.

As with many other viral messages during this crisis, the message is nonsense.

In this case, it isn’t particularly new either. It’s appeared in a number of countries in various ways over the years.

Having said that, just because this isn’t legitimate that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t be wary of potential scams during the current crisis.

Here’s what it says:

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Here’s the gist. It’s a “very urgent” message that people are asked to “please pass around to your family and friends”. It lists a number of numbers that people “have been receiving calls from”.

“One ring and hang up,” it says. “If you call back, they can copy your contact list in 3 sec & if you have bank or credit card details on your phone, they can copy that too…”

It further warns: “*Also, Don’t Press* *#90 or #09* on your Mobile when asked by any caller. *It’s a New Trick to access your SIM card* Make calls at your expense and frame you as a criminal.”

It then grimly concludes: “*Forward this message* to as many friends as U can to stop it.”

So what’s going on here?

As pointed out here by US fact-checkers Snopes, these kind of warnings have been going around for a long, long time.

These kinds of warnings have been seen in the US, Australia and the UK throughout the past decade or so. 

The Snopes article from 2012 features – you guessed it – warnings about the exact same phone numbers.

Even if you got a call from one of these numbers, just ringing them back doesn’t let them copy your contact list. Not in three seconds or in three minutes or so on. 

And there’s no way that just calling someone could allow them to steal the bank details stored on your phone. Furthermore, if you press the digits mentioned above, you won’t be framed as a criminal.

There are – rare – instances where someone’s phone could be hacked but that couldn’t be facilitated through a simple phone call.

That said, there have been scams in operation where you can get a call from an unusual area code and, when you call them back, it could cost you a lot of money because the charge to call that number could be so high.

Furthermore, if you do call them fraudsters could be on the other end and aim to swindle you out of cash.

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The advice of “don’t answer or call back” in the WhatsApp message above may actually be a good one in that sense. If you’re not expecting a call from someone in that country, it may be a good idea not to call back if you have a missed call from a number in that area code.

But the idea that calling them could mean you instantly have your bank details compromised isn’t a credible one. 

Last month, gardaí issued a warning about specific frauds targeting people during the coronavirus crisis.

”A phishing scam involves an unsolicited email, text, WhatsApp or phonecall from someone claiming to be from a legitimate organisation, and is a ruse for the individual to gain access to personal information,” gardaí said. 

Banks have issued similar warnings, with Banking and Payments Federation Ireland CEO Brian Hayes commenting last week: “With a range of financial and other Covid-19 supports now available for impacted consumers and business we anticipate that fraudsters will target victims via email, text, phone and social media by posing as genuine organisations including government, banks and health care providers in an attempt to get victims to disclose personal or financial information.

We have already had warnings in relation to the new Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment with fraudsters posing as officials asking for financial details to process this payment.

In these troubled times, we should all take care not to fall victim to scammers aiming at taking our money.

You should take extra care at all times. For example, the Department of Social Protection – which administers the new Covid-19 payments – said last month that it will never ask for a person’s bank details over the phone. 

While we do need to take care, we also don’t need misinformation like that WhatsApp message above. 

So – if you receive that message – “forward this message to as many friends as U can to stop it”. There’s nothing to stop. It’s nonsense.

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There is a lot of false news and scaremongering being spread in Ireland at the moment about coronavirus. Here are some practical ways for you to assess whether the messages that you’re seeing – especially on WhatsApp – are true or not. 

STOP, THINK AND CHECK 

Look at where it’s coming from. Is it someone you know? Do they have a source for the information (e.g. the HSE website) or are they just saying that the information comes from someone they know? A lot of the false news being spread right now is from people claiming that messages from ‘a friend’ of theirs. Have a look yourself – do a quick Google search and see if the information is being reported elsewhere. 

Secondly, get the whole story, not just a headline. A lot of these messages have got vague information (“all the doctors at this hospital are panicking”) and don’t mention specific details. This is often – but not always a sign – that it may not be accurate. 

Finally, see how you feel after reading it. A lot of these false messages are designed to make people feel panicked. They’re deliberately manipulating your feelings to make you more likely to share it. If you feel panicked after reading something, check it out and see if it really is true.

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here

About the author:

Sean Murray

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