WhatsApp scam sees scammers posing as children to target parents for cash

Few parents would be suspicious of a text message from their son or daughter saying they broke their phone and were using a temporary number. Especially, perhaps, if it was signed with their name, kisses, and even a love heart emoji.

But many families have discovered that the seemingly innocent post is actually the start of a cynical scam that can cost them thousands of pounds.

Known as “mom and dad” or “friend in need”, the fraudsters pose as relatives of their victims via the text messaging service WhatsApp.

Ex-manager Elizabeth Baker – who lives with retired pastor Hugh (pictured) – nearly lost more than £500 after a scammer posed as her daughter

They claim to be in distress and in dire need of cash in hopes that worried relatives will hand over cash without thinking twice.

Santander reported a 532% increase in the new scam between August and November last year.

Nearly two-thirds of scammers pretended to be someone’s son, while 33% pretended to be their daughter.

Action Fraud data reveals victims lost nearly £50,000 between August and October last year; some victims lose up to £3,000 each, according to the fraud reporting body.

A family, who wish to remain anonymous, have been cheated out of £1,500.

Scammers contacted the father posing as his daughter, saying she had gone to a private clinic for emergency medical treatment and a doctor was harassing her to pay the bill.

Over the course of two days, the scammers sent a total of 56 messages asking for help, until her concerned father asked her grandparents to send the money.

It wasn’t until the family finally reached him on the phone the next day that they realized he had been duped.

Scammer cheated Cally Beaton's father out of £1,800

Scammer cheated Cally Beaton’s father out of £1,800

The grandfather, 75, says: ‘My granddaughter has a very unusual spelling of her name. So when the text arrived, we didn’t think for a second that it could be someone else.

“My son called me in a panic saying he desperately needed the money so we said we’d do the transfer.”

“Once you realize it’s a scam, you feel like a fool. It’s horrible.’

His bank has since refunded the money.

Elizabeth Baker, 70, nearly lost over £500 after a scammer posed as her daughter Katrina.

The grandmother-of-three was on holiday in Eastbourne when she received a WhatsApp message.

“Hi mom, I dropped my phone in the toilet so I can’t use it anymore,” he said.

At first, the pre-retirement school principal advised him to put his phone in a box of rice to dry it, but the scammer started asking him for money.

Elizabeth says: ‘The message said it was for an urgent bill which needed to be paid by tomorrow and sent me the bank details to transfer the money.’

She grew suspicious and called Katrina’s partner, who confirmed that her daughter’s phone was working.

Elizabeth, who lives with retired church minister Hugh, in Tamworth, Staffordshire, said: ‘These messages could easily have come from my daughter. It just goes to show how vulnerable we all are to these scams.

This vulnerability, exacerbated by the pandemic, almost caught up with Cally Beaton’s father: he nearly lost £1,800 to a WhatsApp scammer posing as one of his children.

The retired teacher, who did not want to be named, received a message addressing him as “dad” last week. The sender claimed he was contacting him from a new number after breaking his old phone.

Cally, 52, says: ‘They signed the post with an ‘x’ and my dad assumed it was my brother. It was so sad, because he was really happy to hear from my brother and asked how he was.

The scammer then told his father that they hadn’t checked their emails in a while and needed to borrow £1,800 to pay a bill.

However, when Cally’s father tried to transfer the money through his online account, the bank stopped the payment and asked for a call to authorize it.

Luckily, the retiree called Cally before doing anything else, and she told her dad it was a scam. Cally, a comedian from Camden, north London, said: ‘I was furious to think people would exploit parents who just wanted to talk to their children during the pandemic.

Money Mail has also spoken to a 66-year-old woman who paid £814 to a scammer posing as her son. She says he had been struggling financially due to the pandemic – which made the demands for money all the more believable.

In text messages, the scammer pleaded, “I have to pay the bills now, otherwise the amount will increase” and “Oh no, I can’t wait.”

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Known as ‘friends in need’, fraudsters pose as relatives of their victims via text messaging service WhatsApp

When she later asked her bank where the payment had gone, she was told it had been paid into an account with Prepaid Financial Services (owned by Australian fintech company EML Payments).

The company’s Trustpilot review webpage is littered with complaints that the service is linked to sort codes given out by WhatsApp scammers.

It reads: “I was scammed by a WhatsApp message starting with ‘hi mum’ like the other reviews. I was at work at the time and sadly fell for it, losing £945 on two accounts with this bank’s sort code.

In September 2019, the company was fined €1 million by the French banking regulator for failings in its anti-money laundering controls, including failure to report suspicious card activity to authorities.

And in May last year the Central Bank of Ireland launched an investigation into the company’s compliance issues which has now

has been renamed EML Cardholder Portal. Although the company itself was not accused of fraud, as an intermediary company it was accused of not sufficiently verifying where the money was going.

The Central Bank of Ireland has since given the green light to EML’s Irish subsidiary to recruit new customers and launch new programs.

Reports of fraud have skyrocketed over the past two years as scammers exploit the pandemic to prey on vulnerable households.

Victims lost £4million a day in the first six months of 2021, a 30% increase in losses compared to the same period in 2020. Many were targeted by criminals posing as organisations. trusted companies such as Royal Mail and HMRC.

And this last trick reveals just how sophisticated fraudsters have become.

Almost two-thirds of scammers pretended to be someone's son, while 33% pretended to be their daughter

Almost two-thirds of scammers pretended to be someone’s son, while 33% pretended to be their daughter

Individual Protection Solutions (IPS) fraud experts believe that victims’ personal data is sold and bought by online scammers.

The firm estimates that 71% of Britons have had at least one of their online accounts leaked on the dark web.

Charlie Shakeshaft, Founder of IPS, advises: “This scam is growing because it works.

If you feel rushed by a sender, that’s a telltale sign that it’s a scam. Take your time and make sure you hear from the family member or friend directly using another channel. A phone call is ideal because you can recognize their voice.

WhatsApp is now working with National Trading Standards on its Friends Against Scams campaign to stamp out the scam.

Kathryn Harnett, head of policy at WhatsApp, says: “If you receive a suspicious message, calling or requesting a voice note is the quickest and easiest way to verify that someone is who they say they are.”

An EML spokesperson said: “As a business providing financial services in the UK, we comply with all relevant regulatory requirements, including our customer due diligence and monitoring obligations. transactions.

“As a company, we invest heavily in the best fraud monitoring technology.”

A spokesperson for the Financial Conduct Authority said: “If people suspect or are victims of payment fraud, we urge them to report it to their bank and to Action Fraud.”

We will assess the information we receive and take action if we are concerned that companies are not effectively protecting themselves against financial crime.

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