/ 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.

Polly says:
27 June 2022

I had a message from ‘my son’. Phone broken, needed a bill paying. I rang him but he knew nothing about it. I told them in no uncertain terms to go away

Gary Hawthorne says:
29 June 2022

They phoned my wife claiming to be my son on watts app how do they know his name , they need better security and stop these s**t people from scamming innocent people jail sentences need be enforced or the watts app applicatiin needs closing down

Christopher says:
7 July 2022

How do you stop the scam happening once they have started it

K. Gerrard says:
10 July 2022

I got caught by the Mum and Dad scam last week. “My son” said they had changed phone and I could add it which I did. Told them I had to go to work would contact later which I did. Got told they were on the phone to bank due to blocked account. needed to pay money on personal debt. Didn’t question it as my son likes his privacy and I thought it must be bad for him to ask for help. They provided me with bank details and basically I transferred money across even though my bank did ask if I was sure.
Later my real son phoned apologising for missing my call and I said about 2nd number to which he replied he hadn’t got one. That is when I realised I had been scammed. I sent my son the conversation and I’m glad I did as the scammers deleted everything.
I contacted bank and police and sent them them the conversation which I had sent my son. Hopefully I may be able to get my money back.

Deborah Thomas says:
17 July 2022

My mum fell victim to this dame scam on Friday, santander were great yesterday & we’ve sent all the screenshots in to them. Really hope she (& you) get the money back.

Once again I suggest asking the caller to make a video call if you believe they might be genuine. It could help avoid being robbed. Although WhatsApp can be used for crime it can help protect us.

Since these discussions started, I STILL cannot understand why people do not simply press the phone or video call options in Whatsapp and speak to their “relative” on the “new number”. If I receive a whatsapp (or similar app) message from a friend or family member who says they have a problem, or even if they simply seem upset or unhappy, I immediately call them to speak directly and check if they are OK or what is up. If a relative or close friends sent a message saying they had lost their phone , needed to pay bills etc etc and needed 1000 pounds, or 2000, or 2500 or whatever amount, I would immediately make a phone or video call to ask if they needed anything else, or if that amount was enough, or could I send part of the amount today and the rest after I got paid . . . . . even if I did not immediately suspect a scam, or did not immediately suspect that the message might not be from my relative, I would want to speak to them directly to ensure I was helping as much as they needed or as much as I could.


Jacqueline says:
14 July 2022

I was also a victim of this scam today assuming it was my daughter requesting me to transfer funds as her mobile banking details were on her old phone it all seemed quite feasible as her phone was playing up I lost £2500 just hoping my bank might reimburse me at least some of it what parent wouldn’t he.p out their child in their hour of need very spiteful scam

Jacqueline, all scams are spiteful, despicable or whatever.
The aspect I do not understand is this: “what parent would not simply tap the phone or video icon on the screen to SPEAK directly to their child to check if they need anything else, or if they really are OK” ? Many children might play down problems to their parents, and I would want to speak to my child in such circumstances to see if this was the only problem or only assistance needed.
Nothing against you personally, but I am completely opposed to banks refunding customers who have willingly sent money to third party bank accounts.
Ultimately this will increase banking costs for all of us.

Quite. A simple check should have shown this to be a scam. I know all my “childrens’” bank details for when I want to transfer money to them. I would not transfer to an unknown account without very good reason.

I agree with Peacheater. Banks should not be required to recompense customers who have behaved irresponsibly. Apart from the fact it is my money – and that of other customers – that is being used, there is no incentive to treat your financial affairs with due care and attention.

B.Thompson says:
25 July 2022

I deeply wish I’d had had my sceptics head on the day I was scammed out of £3747, by a “Hi Mum” WhatsApp message. The phrase ‘perfect storm’ comes to mind when I think back and relive the whole damn thing. The bank have been sympathetic, but that is really all. They say because I authorised the payments, even after they rang to ask, I am to fault.
The worse thing for me is the fact that, I’d worked for the police for 25 years giving people advise about fraud, scams and the like. So I truly feel a fool. Please if anyone can pass on the message about what these horrible people can do, then do it, you might, just might be able to help someone like me.

Patricia Wakefield says:
28 July 2022

I had a WhatsApp message from ‘my child’with a new number, telling me I could save it. The proceeded to tell me that they had dropped their phone in water and needed a new one or to get it repaired. I knew it was fake and guessed they were going to ask for money, so did not respond any more and blocked their number.

Elaine says:
30 July 2022

I got contacted early hours of the morning

Karen S says:
6 August 2022

I had an SMS message today saying it was my son on a friend’s phone as he had smashed his phone and to whats app him on another number. This is something my son would do but after entering the new number into whats app and not receiving a reply from my son, I phoned his old number to find out it wasn’t him. Feel so stupid now however not sure what they would have gained as I wouldn’t have transferred money without speaking to my son, but I suppose some would!