A young Spanish man has been arrested for swindling thousands of euros with a fake spy app for accessing instant messaging conversations on smartphones for free. What victims got was something else entirely.
WhatsappSPY was supposed to be an application to install and use to view conversations from other users in real time. However, the fraud involved calling a phone number for an activation code, which actually subscribed the victim to a premium SMS service.
Rumors about the existence of the application had been going around the Internet for some time, saying that using the app, a user could access communications made by any person using a smartphone, with only a few simple steps.
After a complaint was lodged by a social network, it was found that the main channel used to access victims for the fraud was by hacking users' profiles on the social media.
The 23-year-old fraudster gained access to more than 11,000 users' profiles. Through these stolen accounts, mass spam messages were sent out to their contact lists to disseminate the information. All links included in the messages looked similar to a genuine social network, easily fooling people accessing them.
Users were automatically redirected to websites to facilitate downloading the program, although apparently once downloaded, the program asked them to introduce a mobile number to purchase an activation code. No activation code was ever received, but the owner of the particular mobile phone number was then subscribed to a premium SMS service, with costs of between €1.45 or €7.26 per call, depending on the operator.
Billed over a period of two months, profits to the fraudster could exceed €40,000. Researchers tracked the alleged architect of the fraud, a 23-year-old Spanish national, who was arrested by the National Police on July 20. A search of his home computer and four hard drives is being analyzed by specialists.
The operation was carried out by agents of the Technological Research Unit of the Judicial Police Commissioner-General in collaboration with the Police Headquarters of Murcia.