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WhatsApp users holed up inside to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus have been plagued by a very familiar foe – a hoax about a video, purportedly send from someone called Martinelli, that hacks your smartphone until “nothing will fix it”. The text message encourages people to copy-paste and forward it onto friends – like chain-mail, which is how it spreads so fast.
In the vast majority of its instances, the hoax message states: “If you know anyone using WhatsApp you might pass this on. An IT colleague has advised that a video comes out tomorrow from WhatsApp called Martinelli do not open it. It hacks your phone and nothing will fix it. Spread the word.”
The message has circulated a number of times since it first surfaced back in 2016. However, there is no evidence the Martinelli video even exists. In fact, it has been widely debunked.
Snopes, the hugely-popular fact-checking website, has confirmed that WhatsApp users aren’t under any threat from a video capable of hacking or wiping your handset.
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In a statement on Sophos’ Naked Security threat newsroom, the widespread hoax message, which seems to have flared up just as millions of WhatsApp users self-isolate and work from home in an effort to stop the spread of the potentially fatal COVID-19 virus that has infected more than 229,537 people worldwide and resulted in roughly 10,000 deaths, described the text message scam as “rubbish”.
It states: “Given that there apparently isn’t any ‘martinelli’ video, WhatsApp users are safe from it. All they have to do is inform senders that they’ve been taken in by a chain letter, tell them to please stop forwarding it, and of course, refrain from forwarding it themselves.”
Another scam sees people sharing messages about WhatsApp Gold – a premium variant of the Facebook-owned messaging service.
However, WhatsApp doesn’t offer an exclusive paid-for tier. Instead, the scam is designed to lure chat app users to illicit websites.
Sophos explains: “‘WhatsApp Gold’ scam messages have, for at least two and a half years and via varyingly worded messages, claimed that the new ‘premium service’ would get users extra goodies, such as video calling and new emojis. Users who clicked on the link got no goodies.
“They got baddies, in the form of a non-WhatsApp website that told them to download malware nicknamed ‘WhatsApp Gold’.”
Worryingly, this isn’t the only scam to see a massive uptick during the novel coronavirus pandemic gripping Europe and the United States and caused thousands of deaths in China earlier in the year.
Tracking maps purporting to show the spread of the virus across the globe have been unmasked as a means to deliver malware onto smartphones and computers.
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