WhatsApp users are being warned about a newly discovered scam message campaign that has cost innocent victims almost £50,000 in the space of a few months. One person, in particular, paid out over £3,000 to scammers after being tricked into thinking they had received a message from their son asking for help. The newly circulated WhatsApp messages begin with either “Hello Mum” or “Hello Dad”, before going on to say they need money transferred over urgently.
The con-artists say they are messaging from a different number as their phone has been lost, and ask for money either to get a new mobile or to allegedly pay for a bill urgently.
The scammers’ bank details are provided, and if successful they may even come back for further demands for money.
This new threat was highlighted by Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud and cyber reporting centre. Between August and October 25 reports of this scam were reported to the fraud experts, costing victims £48,356 in total.
Speaking about the threat, 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 case, a victim paid almost £2,000 to cybercriminals posing as their son, who said their phone had been broken and they needed money to pay for a number of bills.
In total two payments were made to the scam artists, who asked for more money after receiving payments – which is when the victim became suspicious and started asking questions.
In another fraud case, the victim paid over £3,000 to a scammer who once again claimed they were the innocent party’s son.
The scammer said they needed money urgently to pay for a car. Four payments to two accounts were given by the victim which totalled over £3,000.
The news comes as WhatsApp has teamed up with National Trading Standards for a new campaign to advise its users against the threat of ‘friend in need’ scams.
Louise Baxter, from National Trading Standards, 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.”
While Kathryn Harnett, policy manager at WhatsApp, added: “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.”