WeChat takes fight against fake GPS location services used for fraud

Third-party services left users susceptible to fraudulent activity.

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Tencent’s social instant messaging app WeChat is attracting attention for all the wrong reasons, following incidents of fraud involving fake GPS location in WeChat’s Moments, a feature that allows WeChat’s 1.1 billion users to share snippets of their lives with their friends.

The Moment function has been used for various purposes, including recording daily activities, selling goods such as lipsticks and others, or showing off personal wealth.

Many WeChat users also tend to share their locations when they travel abroad, indicating that they are able to afford overseas trips. In 2018, nearly 150 million Chinese travelled outside the Chinese mainland, just a small proportion out of China’s vast population. Nevertheless, these location labels can be easily changed by third-party services which can facilitate fraudulent schemes, as revealed by recent incidents.

Just last week, a WeChat public account called Damokesizhicheng reported a story about a man claiming to be one of the leaders of People’s Daily, China’s State-owned Party newspaper. The individual, who called himself Zhu Xiangyu, often shared links of the daily’s reports via his Moments, with his location being displayed as the headquarters of the newspaper. With the fraudulent information, the man managed to “borrow” thousands of RMB from dozens of reporters affiliated with multiple Chinese media outlets, before being detained by the Beijing police since earlier today.

Chinese newspaper Global Times also reported about people paying to post fake photos of holidays and showing off international locations, a trend that is becoming a business on Taobao, Alibaba’s online marketplace.

Reportedly, such services are sold on Taobao for as little as RMB 10 (USD 1.40), backed by a third-party plug-in.

Many buyers selling goods through WeChat are also relying on fake locations to build a “trustworthy” profile on the platform, according to a report by Beijing Youth Daily. This way, they can cheat potential buyers into believing the offered products are from foreign countries such as Japan or South Korea while they are actually fabricated in China.

However, WeChat asked Taobao to stop allowing such services on its platform last weekend, according to online news portal Sina.com. 

WeChat has also limited over 1 million accounts for related reasons, Beijing Youth Daily reported.