Santander warns of growing Whatsapp scam as victims lose £1,610

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The fraudster sends a message on WhatsApp claiming to be a family member or friend. The message may appear to come from an unknown number posing as the family member or friend.

They are then likely to claim there has been an emergency or accident, and they are having to use a different phone.

The fraudster will then ask for money to pay an urgent bill or help them out of a financial difficulty, and provide account details of where to send the money to. They often try to deter individuals from calling to verify identity, stating they have a poor signal.

The fraudster exploits the apparent relationship with the victim, as well as applies significant pressure. This makes the victim act quickly and not question the request.

As a result victims can lose thousands, thinking they are helping their children, or other family members.

It appears criminals are changing their tack when it comes to stealing money. A common scam previously was to impersonate HMRC as a way to cheat people out of their money.

Fraudsters are continuing to prey on parents as the WhatsApp scam, also known as the ‘Hi Mum and Dad’ scam spreads from Whatsapp to text messages. The scam sees people asked for money, usually by someone impersonating their children.

Messaging scams have been reported to Action Fraud 1,235 times between February 3 and June 21 this year and has cost people a total of £1.5million. Lloyds Bank shared victims appear to lose an average of £1,610. 

Which? says it has now seen evidence that scammers are using text messages to target victims.

One reads: “Hello mum, I’ve broken my phone and I’m using a friend’s old one. I need to talk it’s urgent can you text me on WhatsApp on my new number please.”

Another version of this text reads: “Hi mum I’m texting you off a friend’s phone I’ve smashed mine and their phone’s about to die, can you WhatsApp my new number please.”

Anyone receiving a suspicious text message should report it by forwarding it to 7726 before blocking the number.

Those concerned they may have fallen victim to the scam should contact their bank straight away and report the scam to Action Fraud.

People can also report scam messages on WhatsApp by opening up the chat with the unknown number and selecting Block and Report.

Chris Ainsley, Head of Fraud Control at Santander UK said: “We’ve seen the volume of WhatsApp scams skyrocket over the last few months.

“By preying on people’s relationships with their loved ones, while simultaneously applying immense pressure, these crooks are successfully getting into people’s heads and persuading them to hand over their hard-earned cash.

“Don’t let them win – verify who you’re messaging, before sending money.”

What to do

If someone receives an unexpected message from a loved one on a number they don’t know or receive a suspicious message, they should either phone them back to verify identity, or ask them a personal question only they would know the answer to.

If they think they’ve already been the victim of a WhatsApp scam, report it to the bank straight away.

How to protect yourself

  • Treat any request for money with suspicion, especially if it looks urgent. Even if family members or friends regularly contact you to ask for cash, double check before sending. Call the friend or family member to check the detail – do not use WhatsApp to complete the call.
  • Set up the two-step verification option on the messenger app for extra security.
  • Make sure the messenger app is up to date and block any numbers that are suspicious.
  • Use common sense – if something doesn’t feel right it probably isn’t.

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