Scammers using WhatsApp are posing as family members in order to manipulate victims into transferring money. Here’s how it works.
We’re seeing more and more reports of this scam from multiple sources, and even anecdotally from friends, family and Which? staff.
Here are examples of how these messages appear and how the fraudster attempts to move the conversation on once the intended victim has responded.
02/12/21: Posing as family members
Back in May we covered the ‘WhatsApp verification message trick’. Since then, someone targeted by that very scam got in touch when a fraudster pretending to be her sister took over her WhatsApp account.
They started a believable conversation with her, but then asked to borrow cash to pay for ‘car repairs’. Her sister was actually away at university at the time, so the request didn’t seem unusual – she transferred £350.
Later she received another message requesting a further £500 as the bill had been ‘more than expected’. Becoming suspicious, she called her sister who of course knew nothing about it, but was aware that her WhatsApp had been hacked.
‘This is my new number’ impersonation cons
In this case, her sister had indeed been caught out by the verification scam, allowing fraudsters to access her account. You can read more about the methods involved in that particular scam here.
However, we’ve also heard reports of entirely random phone numbers contacting people on WhatsApp, claiming to be a son, daughter or other family member or friend who suddenly has a ‘new number’.
I have discovered an incredibly devious scam, very nearly fell for it. Watch out! pic.twitter.com/DXZN9wEleD
— Giles Wilkes (@Gilesyb) November 30, 2021
While the techniques involved in contacting you are slightly different, the outcome will be the same: fraudsters are after your money and/or personal data. They will attempt to gain your trust in this way, before requesting money to solve a problem, such as the ‘car repair’ job above. This has become known as the ‘friend in need‘ scam.
Impersonation of friends and family is also common on other messaging apps, and email. We’ve seen cases where fraudsters have gained access to chat history and have continued conversations in progress, cunningly manipulating the course of the conversation into a request for money.
How to handle impersonation scams
If you get a request for money in a message, it’s always worth giving the contact a quick call on the original number you have saved for them to check the details before you go ahead, even if it’s a close relative. Don’t give security codes for any accounts to anyone.
There’s no way someone else’s code could be sent to you by accident. In the case we were contacted about, the money was sent using a bank transfer – the victim isn’t yet sure if she’ll be reimbursed. However, her bank is signed up to the code that pledges to refund customers that fall victim to bank transfer fraud like this.
If she is able to show evidence that she was tricked into the transaction – possibly screenshots from the chat and any correspondence with WhatsApp – she should get her money back.
We let WhatsApp know these scams were continuing to take place on its platform. Its Policy Manager, Kathryn Harnett said:
“WhatsApp protects our users’ personal messages with end-to-end encryption, but we want to remind people that we all have a role to play in keeping our accounts safe by remaining 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.”
Have you been contacted out of the blue on WhatsApp in this way? Was it a random new number or had some accessed your family member or friend’s account? Let us know in the comments.