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Phone users urged to be aware of fake WhatsApp message scam

We’re asking people to be wary and report an increasingly common scam where fraudsters use WhatsApp to dupe victims into transferring money by pretending to be their child.

Typically, the fraudster will send a message from a mobile phone number that the victim doesn’t recognise and begin a conversation by saying something non-specific, such as ‘Hi Mum’ or ‘Hi Dad’. They then go on to claim they have lost their phone or it has been damaged and are now using a different number.

The victim, concerned for their child’s welfare, often responds by asking if the person at the other end is really their son or daughter and inadvertently tells the fraudster what their child’s name is, who in turn texts back to confirm that it is them.

The fraudster will then claim there is a time-critical emergency and that they need funds – such as they have a problem with their bank account and urgently need to pay a bill – so they ask the victim to transfer money to a different account to the one they would normally use.

Jordan Coates, fraud protect officer, said: “Recently we’ve seen a huge rise in the number of reports relating to this scam, where the fraudster pretends to be a relative of the victim and claiming to have lost or damaged their phone or changed number suddenly.

“One of the red flags that it may be a scam, is the vague opening message where the fraudster doesn’t actually say specifically who they are. They imply they may be the victim’s son or daughter, but don’t give a name.

“These fraudsters prey on a parent’s instinct to protect their child who may be in trouble, which is the most natural thing in the world.

“I recently spoke to one victim of this scam who said he was left feeling distraught and also angry at himself. He has since had problems accessing his own bank and the ripple effect has caused a huge amount of distress for him. In total this victim lost nearly £10,000 from his retirement pot.”

How to protect yourself

  • Never send money unless you have verified via a voice call that you know the person texting you is who they genuinely claim to be. Check by calling the new number because if it is really your child and they need help then they will answer your call. Alternatively try contacting your child/children using their original phone number to see if it is working.
  • Report spam messages or block mobile numbers used in scams within WhatsApp. Press and hold on the message bubble, select ‘Report’ and then follow the instructions.

In the first two months of this year more than 75 people in Avon and Somerset reported financial losses totalling more than £80,000 through this scam to Action Fraud, but it is likely that the true cost is much higher.

Jordan said: “We’d urge anyone who is targeted in this scam to make sure they report it to Action Fraud, even if they recognise it is a scam and do not transfer any money.”

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.