WhatsApp Gold scams are real, but these other threats are made up

21 July 2020
What was claimed

A viral video called “Martinelli” will be shared on WhatsApp tomorrow. It will hack your phone if opened.

Our verdict

This is a hoax. There is no evidence the Martinelli video or virus exists.

What was claimed

A video called “Dance of the Pope” shared on WhatsApp is a virus that will format your phone.

Our verdict

This is a hoax. There is no evidence the Dance of the Pope video or virus exists.

What was claimed

Messages encouraging users to upgrade to WhatsApp Gold should be ignored.

Our verdict

Correct. WhatsApp Gold does not exist, but there are numerous “WhatsApp Gold” scams which encourage people to download the fake app which may be harmful for their computer or mobile device.

A viral post on Facebook claims that WhatsApp is releasing a video called “Martinelli” which, when opened, will hack your phone. It also warns that messages encouraging users to upgrade to “Whatsapp Gold” should be ignored. Finally it says people should not open a video called “Dance of the Pope” as it is a “virus that formats your mobile.”

WhatsApp Gold scams are a real thing. You should not open any links for WhatsApp Gold services and report these messages to Action Fraud, the national cybercrime reporting centre. 

The other video viruses mentioned in the post are not real, and variants of these hoaxes have been going viral for years.

The Martinelli hoax has been around since at least 2017, according to fact checking website Snopes. Back then it was also poised to come out “tomorrow”, yet no evidence of the video has ever come to light.

Cybersecurity firm Sophos has written that “in theory, playing a deliberately booby-trapped video file on your mobile phone could end up in a malware infection” but it is very rare. 

The Dance of the Pope video hoax is even older, dating back to at least 2015 when it was also fact checked by Snopes. Again there is no evidence of it being a real thing. Similar claims also give the video a slightly different title, for example “Dance of the Dad” warnings circulating in Quebec, and these are also nonsense.  

The “WhatsApp Gold” scam, however, is real. A simple search of Twitter or Google will show various websites claiming to offer a download for an enhanced WhatsApp app. We’re not linking to any of them for obvious reasons, and you should not click on them if you come across them. There is no such enhanced version of WhatsApp, whether called “WhatsApp Gold” or “WhatsApp Plus” (which other versions of the scam sometimes call it.)

In general, don’t open message attachments from unknown sources. Sophos recommends you only get your mobile apps from official sources like the Apple App Store or Google Play, that you apply security updates on your devices promptly and that you use security software on your device.

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