Please note that this article is purely for educational purposes and to detail what services can be accessed online by anyone with an Internet browser. We do not encourage illegal or illicit activity of any nature.
To get a WhatsApp account you need a cellphone number, as when you set up a WhatsApp account the service messages you a security code to check that you are the owner of said cellphone number.
But to get a cellphone number in South Africa you need to buy a SIM card from a mobile operator and register it in your name as part of the RICA process.
This involves you taking proof of address and your ID to a store and having the SIM, and its number, linked to you.
After registering scores of SIMs at MyBroadband over the years, we tested if we could set up a working WhatsApp account without having to buy a SIM and go through the RICA process.
The first step was getting a cellphone number without buying a SIM.
After a few minutes of Google searching and visits to news websites which looked like they were dying to send us malware, we came across a site called Proovl.
It is listed as a platform that provides a “reliable channel for incoming and outgoing data, communications and partnerships”.
It runs from Estonia and essentially offers you a range of cellphone numbers you can rent for a certain period – like a “virtual” cellphone number.
We registered an account on the site, using only an email address, created a password, and we were good to go.
To buy a cellphone number to receive an SMS, you select the “SMS Numbers” option, and are provided with a list of numbers available with different country codes.
We went for a UK number, which would cost €5.00 for the day.
To buy the number, you must first purchase “credits” on the site – with one credit equalling one Euro.
It was at this point that we became hesitant to use the service, but when checking the payment options we saw Proovl accepted Bitcoin.
Thanks to its anonymity and security, the only risk we now faced when buying the credits with Bitcoin was our money getting taken. This was acceptable.
Proovl was also offering bonus credits if you paid by Bitcoin, so we purchased 15 credits – costing us just over R235 – by sending Bitcoin to the address specified by Proovl.
The payment went through in minutes, and around an hour later registered in our Proovl account.
With our credits topped up, we purchased a UK cellphone number. The images below show the Proovl interface and our number purchase.
WhatsApp and Gmail
Once we had the cellphone number, we tested if it worked by signing up for a Gmail account.
When creating a new Gmail account, Google will ask you for your cellphone number so it can send you a verification code to complete the setup of your account.
We created a username, email address, and password in Gmail and then proceeded to the verification code screen. We entered our Proovl UK number and hit send.
The code came through to the “messages” tab in our Proovl account soon after we requested it, and after entering the code into our Gmail setup we had created a Gmail account anonymously.
The real test, however, was WhatsApp.
Using the anonymous Gmail account we had just created, we set up a Google profile on an Android smartphone. This was so we could access the Google Play store to download WhatsApp.
We downloaded WhatsApp on the phone and set it up.
The image below shows the home screen of the smartphone, and that it does not have a SIM in it. (It was connected to an active Wi-Fi connection.)
Using our UK number, we went through the WhatsApp setup process.
This included the number verification page, which required us to input a code sent from WhatsApp to our stated cellphone number.
All worked as intended, and the screenshots below show how we set up the WhatsApp account and received the verification code from WhatsApp via SMS to our Proovl account.
After entering the verification code into WhatsApp, the account was good to go. We sent a test message to a South African number and they received it – all worked as it should.
As the Proovl number we purchased was only valid for a day, we enabled 2FA (two-factor authentication) in WhatsApp.
This is aimed at protecting our account from being taken over in the event someone else rents the cellphone number we used. With 2FA enabled, a code we created in the app must be entered to set up the WhatsApp account on a new phone.
We also removed the cellphone number as an account recovery option in our new Gmail account, in case the number is rented out again.
The image below shows our no-SIM WhatsApp account having sent a message to a legitimate number and its WhatsApp account.