A leading member of the Pakistani community in Reading has warned people to be cautious after he was hit by an imitation scam that led to a weeks-long ordeal.

Mian Saleem, chairman of Reading Pakistan Community Centre has spoken out after scammers imitated him in the hope of extracting cash from his family, friends and other contacts on WhatsApp.

He lost access to his WhatsApp and scammers used the opportunity to exploit the situation.

Mr Saleem, who lives in East Reading, has now warned others to be wary of such scams.

He said: “It was a nightmare actually for me personally, in the community I have 3,500 contacts.

“They asked everybody I’m in an urgent situation and I need help, please send this money to an account.

“But my account was blocked at the time. It said: ‘can you send £600 into this account, then I will transfer the money immediately’.

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“I think, luckily enough, a lot of people understand I would never ask anybody to do something like this.

“If someone is close to me they know I would never do that either.

“This was a big nightmare. I tried to get onto WhatsApp to tell them my WhatsApp was blocked.

“It was gone from my phone and it was a struggle to get it back.”

Mr Saleem raised the issue with WhatsApp and reported the incident to Thames Valley Police, but was left without the popular messaging app on his phone for days on end.

He said: “It was going on for 14 days, every time I tried to get a pin to unlock WhatsApp it said that I had already done it.

“My phone was blocked for seven days.

“Three to four days after that I managed to get it back. It was a nightmare.

“It harassed my whole community, my friends, my family, I kept my phone on 24/7, people kept on asking ‘is everything ok?’

“I reached out to the police, but they couldn’t help because these hackers have so many background accounts. Luckily no money was stolen so that’s good news. But it was an ordeal.”

While Mr Saleem was able to recover his WhatsApp account all of his chats got deleted.

Reading Chronicle: Mian Saleem, chairman of the Reading Pakistan Community Centre. Credit: Mian SaleemMian Saleem, chairman of the Reading Pakistan Community Centre. Credit: Mian Saleem

Mr Saleem added:  “I would advise people that they must call the person beforehand, or really check first.

“It’s something people need to be aware of.

“There are other types of scam as well, where a business contact wants to have a meeting with you, and asks you to download a link, which they use to get your information.

“It’s a big scam going on at the moment.”

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WhatsApp is owned by Meta, the company founded by Mark Zuckerberg which also owns Facebook and Instagram.

Meta has an advice page for people who suspect that their account has been stolen.

The WhatsApp ‘frequently asked questions’ page states that SMS verification codes should never be shared with others, as if you are tricked into sharing your code and lose access to your WhatsApp account, you will have to undergo a recovery process.

An account can be recovered by receiving a six-digit code via text message.

After that, undergoing a two-step verification process will recover WhatsApp on the phone,

Meta also advises anyone who suspects that they are the victim of a scam to tell family and friends as soon as possible to warn about them about impersonation.