Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 1 April 2020

The WhatsApp 'Martinelli' hoax is back - but is it cause for concern?

The message has been circulating in various forms for years, but has recently resurfaced

A WhatsApp hoax that first appeared four years ago has made an unwelcome return. Reuters  
A WhatsApp hoax that first appeared four years ago has made an unwelcome return. Reuters  

A long-running hoax that claims mobile phones are at risk from a mysterious ‘Martinelli’ virus has resurfaced.

But users of messaging apps have nothing to fear from the supposed threat, which has been circulating since at least 2017.

The message claims that a video called Martinelli will be sent to the recipient’s phone via WhatsApp the following day and warns users not to download it.

The video does not exist, but many still forward the message to friends, family members and colleagues, believing it to be genuine and attempting to warn them to watch out.

What is the ‘Martinelli video’?

It doesn’t exist. But recipients receive a message warning them they will receive the video “from WhatsApp” within 24 hours. Although the exact text varies, it generally states that the video will “hack your phone and nothing can fix it”.

It urges recipients not to download the video and to warn others not to do so by forwarding the message on. It also cautions against clicking on a link to update the app to “WhatsApp Gold”.

The latest version doing the rounds also includes a warning about a video called “Dance of the Pope”.

“It is a virus that formats your mobile,” the message states. “Beware it is very dangerous. They announced it today on BBC radio. Fwd this message to as many as you can!”

WhatsApp does not send videos to its users, but this has not stopped many being taken in.

Do videos ever arrive?

No, but by this time, many will have been misled by the message and try to do the right thing by warning friends. Those who receive the message may forward it on again, particularly if they received the original message from someone they trust.

As with many successful hoaxes, it does have an element of truth to it. The promise of WhatsApp Gold – a supposedly premium WhatsApp service that would give people access to extras such as more emojis – has been used to trick people into downloading malware on to their phones and computers.

WhatsApp does not offer a ‘gold’ service. However, like the Martinelli message, WhatsApp Gold is one of the internet’s most persistent hoaxes, with scams dating back to 2016 and intermittently resurfacing.

A Dance of the Pope video also does not appear to exist, with the reference to the BBC, a respected news outlet, probably added to give the claims credibility they do not merit.

Will forwarding the message harm my phone?

No, simply forwarding the Martinelli message will not do anything to your phone. However, it may cause alarm and inconvenience to others who receive it.

“Given that there apparently isn’t any ‘martinelli’ video, WhatsApp users are safe from it,” Sophos, the cyber security firm, said.

“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.”

Why has it resurfaced now?

No one really knows. There has been a suggestion that it could be linked to the rise to prominence of the Brazilian footballer Gabriel Martinelli, 18, who plays for Arsenal in the English Premier League. But he was still a schoolboy when the scam first appeared, meaning the shared name is a coincidence.

What other scams are doing the rounds?

There have been a series of warnings recently about scams linked to the coronavirus pandemic, many of which have been circulating on WhatsApp and other online platforms.

These vary from the merely fake – for example that the virus can be cured by a mixture of garlic and boiling water – to those designed to steal money or infect devices with dangerous viruses.

For example in one case, it was wrongly claimed that Netflix was giving out free subscriptions in an attempt to make users click a malicious link. In others, sought-after items such as face masks or hand sanitisers were promised but never delivered.

Dubai Financial Services Authority has issued a new statement urging the public to be vigilant and saying the current situation can increase financial institutions’ vulnerability to cyberattacks, phishing attempts and fraud.

Updated: March 25, 2020 01:49 PM

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