/ 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

I received a WhatsApp purportedly from my daughter advising me if her ‘new number’. I ‘twas almost credible as I knew she had just bought a new phone.
I messaged her (not using WhatsApp) asking if the message was genuine. It was not so I reported it as as am and blocked it.

Susan says:
24 December 2021

I got the same text and because my daughter was thinking of changing the contact on her phone, I nearly fell for it but luckily contacted my daughter to check and have reported text and blocked number.

Oscar Humphrey Gyde says:
23 December 2021

On WhatsApp I had the following last Saturday:

Hi Dad
Are u home
you’ll never guess what happened to me today. Really annoying but I have this temporary number for now on can you save it please!

This sender is not in your contacts.

The last WhatsApp comment confirmed my suspicions

Carole says:
23 December 2021

I had a message on WhatsApp the other day….” Hey mum, this is my new number,the old one you can delete”.
I asked “who’s “? and they replied “who do you think mum”?
I checked with my youngest child and she said it sounded dodgy,tried the number, which was automated so I blocked it as scam.

I have had several of these calls. They all say that they are my son. The latest attempt was just a few days ago.

I received a WhatsApp message, very generic, at 9.30pm Mum, I’ve changed from provider this is my new number you can delete my old number ok. I knew straight away it was a scam as my daughter doesn’t ‘speak’ like that, so I engaged in a conversation with them. Her bank account had been locked, as she had attempted too many times to link it to her new phone and she has to pay for something immediately otherwise the price would be increased. Could I do her a favour and pay it etc. So I said how much and who to and it was for 765£ and 725£ for a phone and laptop to Hariet Sesay acc 00425235 sc 23-03-63, refH27DR46. You’ll see the pound sign is the wrong way round for us Brits. They asked me to let them know when it was done and to send a picture of the payment.
I told them that for some reason my bank wouldn’t pay it, that they were saying it was a potential fraud to which they sent 4 more messages in quick succession
What do you mean
It’s safe
What fraud
Can you do it now for me please, all of which I ignored then 35mins later they sent
Serious
Let it go, which I already had, usually you get a lot of abuse if the scam doesn’t work, so was a pleasant surprise to get a polite scammer

I just received the text message saying “Hey Mum my phone has water damage. That’s why i have a temporary number. It fell in my sink. How are you doing? I didn’t reply, but instead messaged a family group that has all my children in it just to make sure. I had seen a warning about this scam only a few days ago, otherwise i could well have been caught out. The number was 07384026693. Reported to WhatsApp, blocked and deleted. My worry is, where do they get your number from?

Jennifer: they send messages to many numbers, generated by computer programmes. Some will hit lucky eg a message saying “hi Mum” will be received by a Mother.

Joanne Mealor says:
23 December 2021

I had my first one on What’s App yesterday “Hi mum. My other phone crashed. But this is my temporary number 👍. You can save this one. Message me if you’ve seen this.” The first & biggest clue it was a scam is the fact that the only children I’ve got are four legged ones!! I was tempted to play along but thought that’s confirming the number is live so I just blocked it.

Sonia Reid says:
23 December 2021

I am a 69 year old woman who was messaged from an unknown number calling me mum. They said their phone had been pick pocketed and that the police had advised not to call it as the phone would be switched off and would be untraceable. This seemed feasible to me and to cut a long story short, I made 3 payments to them totalling over £5,000. My bank stopped one and has repaid one other payment but the final one is still under investigation. The whole experience has been a nightmare causing enormous stress. My bank has been very helpful but on reflection, had they advised me on my first call to them that this was a known scam, I would not have pressed them to make payments

So I receive a whatsapp message ‘mum I have changed my number please save this over the old number. … I have a new smartphone and it wouldn’t accept the sim so had to change my number … I presume this was oldest son who lives away so I replied making conversation was he at work etc. He said he had a problem could I help. I asked if he could talk… I tried to call… whooshie sound… ‘he’ said ‘no sim not activated’… he told me …. My bank account is frozen because of security with the new phone, could I pay the phone bill. He had the money in savings and would pay me back. Suspicious now🤔 I said email me. I had now begun to suspect it wasn’t him, I phone Kev’s number which I hadn’t overwritten thankfully!!! The scammer was careless but had me fooled at first and managed to engage with me. Number is now blocked and reported to whatsapp – (the message trail then disappeared). Kev and I have now agreed a password In case of any future changes. I had heard of someone getting scammed through whatsapp but didn’t understand how until now. The scammer was presumably phishing for a response from someone.

UnaLlave says:
23 December 2021

Crumble for xmas dessert. ALWAAAAYS. In fact, crumble after any roast. Must be the remnants of old school dinner memories.

I had a message “Hi Mum This is my new number that old number can you delete. I have to look for. New device.” I hadn’t read this article so thought it was an error and texted back that I wasn’t his/her Mum. And then blocked him/her. There was the standard WhatsApp note that messages and calls are end to end encrypted. Presumably this means that I can’t report in the way that I can forward texts to 7726?

Ann McCarten says:
24 December 2021

I got one saying they were my son and he had changed his number I tried to ring it ,but what’s app were very good and said unknown contact and wouldn’t let me phone it, when I phoned my son it wasn’t from him,also got a message from from my friend saying is this you in video of course I opened the link and nothing so had to change my Facebook passwords.

G Walls says:
24 December 2021

I had one some time ago from a French friend, in French, but not my native language, so I didn’t get the ‘flavour’ of the person. It told me that she had a medical secret that she hadn’t discussed with her husband. This alarmed me. But the message went o to ask if I could go easily to one of the French supermarkets, which rang bells of dis belief. Finally I sent her an SMS and she confirmed it was a scam. I was 84 at the time but not daft!!

There is one easy answer to all these type of scams, just don’t transfer any money!

Pat Pinkerton says:
24 December 2021

I too was a victim of scamming by someone who pretended to be my son. Message said he had dropped his phone in water and this was his new no. 2days later got a message to say because of his old phone he had to transfer all apps but the banking app had put a 24hr security on in case of fraud. he had to pay 2 payments, could I possibly pay them and he would return the money to me in 2 days time. Really thought it was genuine until I said I was going to the bank and use a credit card, the reply was it needed to be a bank transfer. Alarm bells started ringing and by the biggest of coincidences my son text me warning of scams over the Christmas period. I realised it was a different mob no.!

Alison Sharkey says:
27 December 2021

I received one of these saying “Hi Mum my number has changed, here’s my new number. Then another one saying Hi Mum are you in?
I know these are scams as sadly we haven’t got any children

Laura Southall says:
27 December 2021

Yes, I have been contacted on two different occasions from two different numbers, the first time I was partly taken in up to the point I was asked to transfer 1260.00, I just broke down laughing. The second time I shut them down immediately. I tried to report it but the process is so long winded on Action Fraud I really can’t be bothered.

ALISON HILLS says:
30 December 2021

I too was nearly caught out. Had a “hi mum this is your daughter, phone broken lost all my data and need to pay two bills in two days. Please will you pay them and will pay you back” I was just dishing dinner up on Christmas eve, so not really paying attention. Went to my internet banking account, but hubby asked why her husband not seeing to it. Lightbulb moment, called her hubby a scam. Made me feel soo stupid

It’s very easily done, thankfully you made the call first !

Would your daughter usually start a text with “Hi Mum, this is your daughter…” ?

Quite right. And pay two bills in two days from Christmas Eve? Apart from that I’d suggest most family would phone rather than text when they needed this sort of help. Glad hubby had common sense.

I received a text from my son saying his phone had been smashed and to keep this number as it is his new one. I tried to phone his old number but got no answer. A few days later I received a text from the new number saying he urgently needed to pay an invoice £1420 and the bank had not accepted bank transfers on his new phone yet. I said how do I know this is you and he gave me his full name. I told him I cannot transfer money as haven’t got the necessary bank card machine needed. The next text said send photos of the front and back of your credit card and I will pay you back in a few days. Pleading to pay the invoice.
I phoned my eldest son who said It’s a Scam don’t send any money. He managed to get hold of his brother and said phone Mum urgently.
My youngest son phoned me and said his phone was fine and he knew nothing about the new number or wanting any money. He had been doing voluntary work and hadn’t had time to check his phone for messages.
Whole episode was very distressing to me. How they knew my son’s full name, I don’t know.

Instead of trying to phone the old number, what was the reason you did not try also calling his “new” number?

Maureen Mitchell says:
1 January 2022

I had one of the wasapp messages about child with new number. I said who is this & they replied your eldest child, so I said sorry you must have the wrong number. I only have one child. Thought they must just have got my number wrong. I didn’t know about this scam till I just saw your email ! This was on 15/11 . I still have the messages on my phone.