/ Scams

Warning: WhatsApp ‘mum and dad’ scam continues

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

02/03/22: ‘Mum and dad scam’ continues

Now dubbed the ‘mum and dad scam’, our Which? Money helpline team has reported an increase in the number of people getting in touch who have been affected by this type of fraud.

As a result, we’re repeating our call to make your friends and family aware – particularly, of course, your mum and dad.

Keep scrolling to see exactly how the scam works, what it looks like, and what to do if you’ve unfortunately become a victim.

23/12/21: Impersonation scams increase

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.

Louise Hill says:
4 December 2021

I had a similar WA scam. New phone, urgently needed to pay bills. Realised afterwards that English was not the scummers first language, but not suspicious as my son is dyslexic. He has never asked for money and it was 4am in Melbourne when my “son” contacted me. Didn’t occur at the time! Gave credit card details but Nationwide blocked 4 attempts. Phew. Now must ask for personal information that a scummer would not know.

Ted Gore says:
23 December 2021

First time I’ve seen them referred to as ‘Scummers’ – love it!!

I had a message in a family what’s app group I have with my 3 adult children. ‘Hi mom this is my new number. Can you delete my old one. How are you doing?’ The ‘mom’ was a dead giveaway, and it came from a number beginning with 31. Think this is a USA code. Easy to be fooled if your not wary. Thankfully I was aware of these scams!

Jane McCulloch says:
5 December 2021

This happened to me only yesterday. I had a message on WhatsApp saying’ mum, my phone is water damaged so I have a new number’ I thought it was from my daughter in the US. We chatted for a while, then she said she needed to pay a bill urgently and was unable to access her mobile banking app and could I pay. When the details came through I was surprised to see a name I didn’t recognise so I googled it and found it was someone in Nigeria, they were asking for almost £2000!
That’s when I realised it was a scam. I contacted my daughter who confirmed that there was no problem with her phone and she had not asked for her bill to be paid.
I reported it to WhatsApp and Action Fraud immediately in the hope that they will be caught. It really unnerved me as I am normally very cautious.

Jake says:
6 December 2021

My mum early got scammed with this, they knew my name and that I was her eldest son, they’ve tried 2 times in the past month, so freaky that someone could pretend to be me that easily.

Beware of scammers on Depop!

My 17 yrs old grand-daughter was scammed and all the money in her bank account was stolen. She unsuspectingly gave the code to her Paypal account when someone posing as being interested in buying a T-shirt she had posted on the Depop website claimed to be having trouble with their Depop account and asked to contact her via Whatsapp. She assumed the person was another young girl like herself, rather than an adult male based in Nigeria. Obviously, teenagers have less experience in spotting scams and are more trusting. Plus a site like Depop is an ideal hunting ground for scammers looking for young victims, as they are buying and selling clothes via this website. She has had to learn the hard way that there are bad people out there in the big, wide world!

I had a similar scenario on Saturday 4/12/2021 that he had a problem with his mobile phone and he cannot call me and needed money asap and should transfer £1,498.99 to [edited]. the tel No: +44 7881 699403.

[Moderator: we’ve edited this comment to remove financial details and other personally identifiable information. For more information, please see the Community guidelines]

This happened to me yesterday. The – Hey mum My phone fell in the sink, new number, bank frozen, need funds just for a couple of days etc. I emailed my daughter and of course she knew nothing about it. What concerns me is how they could send an anonymous message to my account and does that mean that they can read all of my posts and my contacts posts? I have blocked number but the drop box did not have ‘scam’ on it so I put spam which is not correct.

My husband received a WhatsApp message saying that our daughter has lost her phone, we were given another number to be access. But she had a problem, she had to pay a bill urgently tonight. She would pay us back tomorrow. She said she was locked out of her bank account because it was linked to the lost phone. We were then given an account with details to pay it to.
We were accused of not trusting her etc, really twisting the heart strings, we said we would not do anything until we had spoken to her. It has died down now and it was a scam.

I’ve just had someone who I thought was my son sending his new number. As soon as ‘he’ asked for money, I knew it wasn’t him. I reported it to WhatsApp straight away, and the conversation was automatically deleted and blocked.

Jane King says:
18 December 2021

I nearly fell for this very scam. I got a WhatsApp hi mum my phones broken the screens smashed it’s gone all weird I’ve lost everything so had to get a new one. Add my new number.
I had no suspicions
I answered back asking which child, I’m hazarding a guess & said who.
Mainly because it’s not the first time it’s been him to break a phone.
All day we have been chit chatting nothing suspicious from my end.
Messages very naturally sounding like they were from my son & written his why too.
Later on he tells me he has an invoice needs paying today can I help, if I can I will. He sent over all the invoice details £125,000 I told him him I couldn’t afford that.
He then said send a pic of your card back & front & I’ll pay it. BANG!!! Scam
Obviously I didn’t do that but I did keep the conversation going for a few more hours. He said earlier how he was going to dinner with friends & id asked if he was going with his girlfriend, so I asked how that was going, he came back & said yeah good. Then I said I know your a scammer I’ve been speaking to my son. The number is blocked.

One of the many things I do not understand. If a “family member” has a new phone or new number and is able to send you a whatsapp message saying they need help to pay a bill (or whatever) , you can SPEAK to them in a voice call via whatsapp (or telegram, signal etc)

Stephen Tighe says:
20 December 2021

We have agreed a safe word for our family WhatsApp group. We will all use this if one of us wants something from one of the others, and once it gets used and it’s out there, then we will all agree on a new safe word. Hopefully that should work.

While this should work, so should making a voice call and speaking to the alleged relative who is sending you messages.

There are contrasting opinions on the way people are expected to act responsibly or use common sense. Clearly there is a range of capability exhibited by people. How should systems be devised that cover them all?

I support Peacheater’s suggestion. If something unexpected crops up, it’s usually far better to have a conversation with the individual and establish the reality of the situation and the best way of handling it. Hardly anything is of such desperate urgency that reflex reactions are required.

Agreed, but if you make a WhatsApp video call you can see who you are speaking to, and hopefully we might recognise our relatives.

The most important thing is to recognise the risks that we face in our lives and take suitable precautions.

Yes, a voice call or video call would work. Sometimes, depending where someone is, there might not be enough bandwidth for a video call. But voice call – even without video, you can easily distinguish between a relative and a scammer.
If someone can send a message, they can receive a call.

Just this sevond received a WhatsApp supposedly from my daughter – rubbish!
07435 499368 note the number!

latest is Apple airpods, claiming to be genuine, but are fakes with lables and boxes they come in are similar looking

I have heard about this, have you bought any yourself?

I think I am reasonably savvy, but got so far as changing my son’s number in my phone.
but when he wanted a bill paid immediately, I decided I would need to speak to him in person first.
Then the person on the other end of the messaging became less interested!!

Lin Ashman says:
23 December 2021

I had whatsapp message twice starting “Hi mom…..” I immediately deleted it as I had read a magazine article about this scam but my children have never ever addresses me as ‘mom’, I deleted the message and blocked the number

I got…Hey mum, ive just broke my phone and got a new number…me…Who is this?…reply, Who do you think?…me…Never mind im not playing games…no further contact as was no reply! the number used to send this was +44 7405 210769

Johanna Gates says:
23 December 2021

I’ve had a similar scam but they agreed their name ‘‘twas Laura and that is not one of my children’ names! So I reported and blocked the messages.

Mrs Brown says:
23 December 2021

I received the “ I have different number now “ WhatsApp text & luckily was with my son who had been texting my daughter . So I blocked the fake number.
Another member of the family had same thing & again luckily hadn’t been able to send money.

Ian Anderson says:
23 December 2021

I thought I was tech savvy but got caught out by this scam , it appeared to be genuine. Fortunately I contacted my bank straight away and got the payment stopped. IF YOU RECIEVE A MESSAGE FROM 07423 834380 BEWARE AS IT WIILL BE A SCAMMER.