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No evidence that ‘Seismic Waves’ file of photos of Moroccan earthquake can hack your phone

IN SHORT: Social media posts warn that a file claiming to be photos of the September 2023 earthquake in Morocco will hack your phone “in 10 seconds”. But this viral message comes with a few red flags and is false.

Several posts doing the rounds on Facebook in South Africa warn readers about malware on messaging service WhatsApp that can “hack your phone in 10 seconds”.

Malware is a type of malicious software, often installed by clicking on infected links or files, designed to infiltrate devices and cause damage or compromise data. 

The posts read: “They are going to upload some photos of the Moroccan earthquake on WhatsApp. The file is called Seismic Waves CARD, don't open it or see it, it will hack your phone in 10 seconds and it cannot be stopped in any way. Pass the information on to your family and friends.”

The posts then warn readers once again not to open the file and adds “they also said it on TV”.

The claim was sent to Africa Check several times on our WhatsApp line.

Morocco, a North African country bordering Algeria, experienced a magnitude 6.8 earthquake late on 8 September 2023

But is there a file doing the rounds claiming to be photos of the Moroccan earthquake that actually hacks your phone? 

We checked.


Viral message comes with a few red flags

A quick Google search for “seismic waves hack” returned only other instances of the claim, with no evidence from any reputable news organisations. A search for “Morocco earthquake phone hack” returned only news articles about the natural disaster.

Africa Check has previously debunked other false claims warning readers against potential malware files. This new viral message has a few red flags, similar to those false claims.

The first red flag, common to many viral messages like these, is a lack of evidence. The message mentions an ominous “they” but gives no details of who might be responsible for the malware.

It also says this warning was “also said on TV”, but doesn’t say where this was or who reported it.

Another red flag is that the message uses similar language to previously debunked warnings, such as repeating “do not open”, a tactic used to make readers scared or angry.

The message says “it will hack your phone in 10 seconds and it cannot be stopped in any way”, which is the exact phrase we have seen in previous false warnings.

Like other false hacking warnings, the message urges people to share it with friends and family. It’s another red flag that a message is false if it’s been forwarded many times.

Don't open files or click on links from people you don't know

McAfee, a computer security company based in the US, gives advice on a few things you can do to help protect yourself from malware:

  • Install antivirus software to keep malware at bay
  • Be wary of suspicious-looking websites and what files you download
  • Use strong passwords
  • Don't open files or click on links from people you don't know
  • Back up your data regularly

To protect yourself against misinformation on the platform, follow our five steps to fight fake news and false information on WhatsApp.

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