“Someone complimented you!”

Unsuspecting people might have received this text message from the IRL – Let’s Hang! app. Image courtesy of Suha Hafeez.

No, they did not.

However, many VCU students — along with virtually anyone who owns a smartphone — might have received an automated text message from the app called IRL – Let’s Hang, that makes such a claim.

A recent tweet by a Utah woman promoting a false theory about the app went viral on Aug. 24.

“LADIES, if you have received a text recently saying ‘a friend has complimented you IRL’ with a link attached below it, DO NOT open the link!” she said in the now-deleted tweet. “It is linked to sex trafficking. All your information (including location) can be taken simply by clicking on the link. SO DON’T DO IT!”

Concerned VCU students, such as Jake Cerulli, said that the messages are not exclusive to women.

“Sheesh, I’m a guy and get those almost everyday,” Cerulli said.

Ella Gray, also a student, said the frequency of the messages creep her out.

“I’ve gotten multiple messages and I heard based on reviews in the app store it’s sketchy,” Gray said.

The app, developed by Genrikh Khachatryan, “makes it easy and fun to send and receive invites to hang out with friends in real life,” according to the IRL website.

Based on its users’ interests or location and the time of year, the app makes suggestions on what the user and their friends should go out and do.

Some students like Olivia Duke said the spam-like message has nothing to do with sex trafficking. Her theory is the app has a bug that will text others in the user’s contact book.

“Don’t worry,” she said. “It’s a real app that was first created to encourage teens to hang out in person. It now is just a spam app, it collects phone numbers. If you allow it to sync with your contacts it will send the same text using those numbers.”

The frequently asked questions webpage for IRL suggests there are only three reasons an unsuspecting person should have gotten a text to download the app: a friend who uses the app invited someone else to use the app, invited someone to an event within the app, or nominated someone as likely to partake in a particular activity — which is another feature of the app.

The app’s website also claims it does not send mass text messages to all of a user’s phone contacts.

Anyone can opt out of receiving the IRL messages. Simply reply “STOP” to the number that sent the text message, and an unsubscribing confirmation will be sent back. Additional problems can be reported to hello@irl.co.


Nia Tariq, News Editor

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