/ Scams

Warning: fraudsters are posing as family members on WhatsApp

Scammers using WhatsApp are posing as family members in order to manipulate victims into transferring money. Here’s how it works.

23/12/21: Update

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’.

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.

Guide: how to spot a scam

Guide: how to get your money back after a scam

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.

Comments
Christopher Bennett says:
4 January 2022

My elderly parents got scammed out of £5K by this very scam today. Utterly appalled people could do this to an elderly couple.

Scammers/con-artists have NEVER cared about who the victims are or might be. Whwen i was a kid, the fake worker from Electricity company / Gas Board / water company etc, the cowboy roofer/builder, ALL deliberately and specifically targeted the elderly.

If anyone receives a whatsapp message of thse type, just tap the phone or video icons and SPEAK to the supposed family member before sending money anywhere.

Natalie says:
4 January 2022

My Mum received messages like this today; an unknown number pretending to me me and asking for money towards a MacBook. Thankfully she contacted me first but it looked so convincing.

It is worth setting up a password or phrase with trusted members of your family – a pet name – shared holiday destination – school – anything. Drill it into them that any urgent request for assistance must be accompanied by this word or phrase , so that if they do get into serious problems and don’t have access to their own device for any reason, you can be fairly clear about whom you are chatting with. Children aren’t always the clearest communicators.

So: “Hi Mum! How’s Fido? …. “. Anything else you can just delete with certainty.

These fraudsters are playing on parental fears and guilt, so don’t give a way in.

“Children aren’t always the clearest communicators.”
It is not generally children who are falling for these scams and failing to communicate before sending money.

Tricia says:
5 January 2022

I got one of these this evening, initially thought it was from a daughter but something not quite right, then I got a paying bills request, £2400!! Realised it was a scam, but it was initially plausible

June Sookprechar says:
5 January 2022

I fell victim to a WhatsApp scam which came in the name of my son and asked me for help help pay bills as his phone got destroyed in the washing machine the sum of £2000 was requested saying I had only £200 he asked for this to be transferred to him to xxxxx BANK ACCOUNT xxxxx sort code xxxx phone number he used xxxxx and asked me and kept on asking me if I had deleted his old phone number and just did not suspect foul play as wanted to help my son so my bank refunded me half the amount as they took half the blame for being too slow in responding to my phone calls and a bigot to my branch which had two staff and could not help giving he the number I had been tinyimg for two days and only by sending them a message did I get the correct scam section oriole to speak to too late as they could not get the funds retrieved as the scammers had cleared out this
bank account so dissatisfied with them and if they would gave acted sooner my money which was my winter fuel benefit was unretrievable and I sad and in the process of changing my bank as maybe they were not bound by the rules of having to refund my money hopefully you can do justice for all of us and please add. Y circumstances to the list thank you judge Sookprechar

[Moderator: we’ve edited this comment to remove personally identifiable information, as this is not allowed in the Community guidelines. Please don’t post people’s names, addresses, or other personally identifiable information – even if you suspect it is made up. This is to protect everyone’s privacy.]

june s says:
8 January 2022

ok sorry was not aware of this but grateful thanks for this advice i understand

Heather says:
5 January 2022

My mother in law was contacted a few days ago by her son aka my husband asking for money. She contacted me asking what it’s for i knew nothing about it. Went home and spoke to husband found out it was a scam

Catherine says:
6 January 2022

I have just received some messages on WhatsApp purporting to be from my child. The first one says ‘Hi mum. This is my new number. Save it in you’re (sic) contacts.’ The last message says ‘Why are you ignoring me’ I have not replied.

Steve says:
6 January 2022

Just happened to me too but once the money request came in I smelt a rat and contacted my daughter on her usual number and of course she knew nothing about it

Emma says:
10 January 2022

My mum got scammed. I’ve read up on this scam a lot since and whilst I can now see “your eldest” is quite common, I still cannot work out one thing. My mum has me saved in her contacts under a certain name. The fraudulent message that came to her WhatsApp account was a different phone number but came up on screen with the same contact name, not just a number. How has this been done? It’s partly why my mum fell for it

Andy H says:
16 January 2022

This has just happened similarly to my mother-in-law. Luckily it seems her bank have put a stop on the transaction.
I suspect that the scammers have either compromised her phone, or have obtained enough data from a compromised website she has used to discover your name, her number, and the fact you are her daughter. They then set up a burner phone and put their name as Emma. Their privacy settings are left at ‘everyone’ and Whatsapp shows your mom the number, with the name ‘Emma’ alongside. This adds to the legitimacy in the victim’s mind.
Appalling.

Jenny Lewington says:
11 January 2022

I nearly got scammed on Saturday by someone pretending to be my son asking me to make 2 payments for him as his phone was broken. I challenged the person being paid and the amount and they deleted the bank account details, checked with my son afterwards and he confirmed it wasn’t him. I have been WhatsApped again today with an identical request just changing the chat a bit with what I said.
I have taken pictures of the chat this time and played along with them so have the bank account details and phone number its come from if anyone official is interested.

Harry says:
13 January 2022

I recently had a whats app message saying Hi Mum, guess what have managed to put my phone in the washing machine and am having to use another phone. The message was not signed by my daughter so I rang her on her old number and realised the message was a scam.

Jennifer Shaw says:
14 January 2022

I received this WhatsApp message last week. Very, very convincing, I thought it was my daughter.

Catol says:
17 January 2022

Just had same message as in advice above, ie Hi mum lost my phone, are you busy right now. Not being sure if it was my son I asked him to video me and he didn’t so when he is home tonight I will ring him
What do I do now to report it I was asked to save the number, but was unable

Anne De'Ath says:
18 January 2022

I’ve had this twice. First time I fell for it and even saved the number. Had a conversation with the sender. Became suspicious when the replies were full of misspellings and typos and the type of phrasing my daughter doesn’t use (such as ‘U’ for ‘you’) – my daughter is an excellent speller and typist and doesn’t use those abbreviations, nor is she short of money, so I twigged when the request for the bank transfer came through. However, there are plenty of young people who might indeed be short of money and would contact their parents via WhatsApp so it is a pernicious scam and easy to be taken in. I had it again today – just clicked the “Report to WhatsApp” button and it was deleted from my phone.

Sue Meddings says:
19 January 2022

I very nearly got scammed for £1300+ today. Had my actual son not messaged to ask why I had deleted him from a WhatsApp group (because ‘he’ allegedly had a new number), I would never have known I’d been played. It shook me to the core! The scammer had the correct title of my son’s account, hence me thinking it was genuine.

Alan Nolan-Davies says:
20 January 2022

Just received this today, from 07888 864968

Hii dad my phone just fell on the floor and now it won’t work anymore

I’m using an old phone now this is my new number

Christine Taylor says:
20 January 2022

Just been contacted by someone claiming to be one of my children – asking for money to pay a bill, using a ‘new’ phone cos theirs had unexpectedly broken. They gave me bank details. I went along with their suggestions – but didn’t pay – however I told them I did! I have reported the WhatsApp conversation.