A convincing WhatsApp scam where criminals pose as a friend or family member in need has cost users almost £50,000 in three months.
New data from Action Fraud, the national reporting centre for fraud and cyber crime, reveals a new emerging threat where victims are being targeted on WhatsApp by criminals pretending to be someone they know.
The scam has been reported to Action Fraud 25 times between August and October 2021 and has cost users a total of £48,356.
Criminals will typically claim to be a family member and will usually begin the conversation with “Hello Mum” or “Hello Dad”. They will say that they are texting from a new mobile number as their phone was lost or damaged and will go on to ask for money to purchase a new phone, or claim that they need money urgently to pay a bill.
The criminal will supply their bank details for payment, with some coming back with further demands for money. Criminals are successful in their approach as they are exploiting the emotional vulnerability of the public in an attempt to deceive victims
Temporary Detective Inspector Craig Mullish, from the City of London Police, said:
“If you’re contacted out of the blue from a number you don’t recognise but the person is claiming to be someone you know and are requesting financial assistance – stop and think as it could protect you and your money.
“These messages may appear genuine but your money could end up in the pockets of a criminal, so it’s okay to reject, refuse or ignore any requests. Only criminals will try to rush or panic you. Try and reach out to the person directly by another form of communication to confirm that their request for help is genuine as it could be a scam.”
In one instance, a victim reported paying almost £2,000 to someone they believed was their son after they received a WhatsApp message. The suspect claimed that they had broken their phone which is why they had a new number and that they needed a number of invoices paying.
The victim made two payments via bank transfer to the suspect, totalling almost £2,000. The suspect asked for more money once the payments were made and the victim became suspicious and began questioning the suspect.
In another instance, a victim reported paying over £3,000 to someone who they, again, believed was their son after they received a WhatsApp message. The son had moved to a different country a week before and was due to pick up a new car that day. The suspect claimed that they needed the deposit transferring urgently so they could pick up the car. The victim made four payments to two different accounts totalling over £3,000.
The warning comes as WhatsApp launched a new campaign this month, in partnership with National Trading Standards’ Friends Against Scams campaign, to help equip the public with the skills they need to protect themselves, their families, friends and their WhatsApp account from message-based scams. This includes free online training via the Friends Against Scams website.
Louise Baxter, Head of the National Trading Standards Scams Team and Friends Against Scams, said:
“Lots of people may feel immune to scams, but these ‘Friend in need’ scams are particularly effective as they prey on our kindness and desire to help friends and family. Scammers send messages that appear to come from a friend or family member asking for personal information, money, or a six-digit PIN number.
“The messages are sent from the compromised accounts of your friends, so they look as if they’re coming from someone you know, or from an unknown number claiming to be a friend who has lost their phone or been ‘locked out’ of their account.
“The rising number of cases highlights why it’s important for all of us to protect ourselves, our friends and families from scams. Always report suspected cases – and take the free online training at friendsagainstscams.org.uk to help take a stand against scams.”
Kathryn Harnett, Policy Manager at WhatsApp, said:
“WhatsApp protects our users’ personal messages with end-to-end encryption, but we want to remind people of the other ways they can keep their accounts safe and remain vigilant to the threat of scammers.
“We advise all users never to share their six-digit PIN code with others, not even friends or family, and recommend that all users set up two-step verification for added security. And, if you receive a suspicious message (even if you think you know who it’s from), calling or requesting a voice note is the fastest and simplest way to check someone is who they say they are. A friend in need is a friend worth calling.”
How to protect yourself
- If you receive a similar message that’s asking you for money, speak with the person over the phone to verify they are who they say they are.
- You can report spam messages or block a sender within WhatsApp. Press and hold on the message bubble, select ‘Report’ and then follow the instructions.
Action Fraud advises that the public follow the advice of the Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign to keep themselves safe from fraud.
- Stop: Taking a moment to stop and think before parting with your money or information could keep you safe.
- Challenge: Could it be fake? It’s okay to reject, refuse or ignore any requests. Only criminals will try to rush or panic you.
- Protect: If you think you’ve been a victim of fraud, contact your bank immediately and report it to Action Fraud online at actionfraud.police.uk or by calling 0300 123 2040.
How to report
- You can report suspicious texts you have received but not acted upon, by forwarding the original message to 7726, which spells SPAM on your keypad.
- You can report suspicious emails you have received but not acted upon, by forwarding the original message to [email protected].
- If you have provided personal or financial details as a result of a suspicious message, or lost money because of a scam, you should report it to Action Fraud at actionfraud.police.uk or by calling 0300 123 2040