6th September 2021

WhatsApp scam targets families

A new scam involves fraudsters posing as family members and asking for money to be transferred to them.

By JTS Staff
Journal of Trading Standards' in-house team
When receiving a message out of the blue like this, always be suspicious, and doubly so when money is involved

CTSI has been informed of a newly emerging scam message on WhatsApp in which fraudsters attempt to impersonate the recipient’s family members to steal money.

A member of the public named Alison received a message that said: “Hi mum, I’ve dropped my phone down the loo [sad emoji] this is my new number.”

Alison replied to the message and asked if it was her son, Will, to which the scammer replied in the affirmative. The very next day, Alison’s ‘son’ messaged her asking for £2,600 and explained that he had got mixed up with loan sharks and needed to pay up. Alison didn’t doubt the message for a moment.

Alison tried to call her ‘son’ back, but the person on the other end kept saying they couldn’t take the call and continually put pressure on her to make the payment quickly. This worried Alison, who agreed to make the payment. The person gave the bank details of the alleged loan shark to pay.

Fortunately for Alison, she forgot to click the final payment confirmation and, after some time, the scammer messaged asking for a picture to prove the payment had been made. This caused a wave of scepticism in Alison’s mind, and then it was confirmed that the message was indeed a scam.

CTSI Lead Officer, Katherine Hart, who spoke on BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours programme to discuss this incident, said: “This is not the first time I have seen this type of message, which is highly deceptive. Scammers are experts at exploiting the emotional vulnerability of the public, and this is a particularly insidious example of it.

“When receiving a message out of the blue like this, always be suspicious, and doubly so when money is involved. Alison did the right thing by trying to call the number to verify, but as we see, fraudsters are skilled at influencing quick action, and she almost lost money to it.

“Please always report suspicious texts by forwarding them to 7726 – a free service by Ofcom which enables authorities to analyse messages and build a full picture of this enormous problem.”

CTSI Chief Executive, John Herriman, said: “We need a national conversation about consumer vulnerability, and that conversation begins at the CTSI Symposium, which will be held in Birmingham from 28-30 September.

“This WhatsApp scam demonstrates that consumers have never been so instantly vulnerable. The Government and regulators must be prepared for the rapidly evolving threats presented by advancing communications technologies and techniques, and the trading standards profession plays a key role in developing that consumer protection framework.”

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