Victims across the country are being targeted by scammers pretending to be a close friend or family member on WhatsApp. Action Fraud, the scam watchdog, reports that the scam tactic is costing those affected around £50,000 in financial losses with 25 cases being reported between August and October this year. Criminals are usually pretending to be family members who send messages like “Hi Mum” or “Hi Dad” to gain the attention of their victim.
Louise Baxter, the Head of the National Trading Standards Scams Team and Friends Against Scams, elaborated on why these latest WhatsApp scams pose a unique threat to many people up and down the country.
Specifically, the scam expert highlighted how the latest example of fraud takes advantage of “our kindness and desire to help friends and family”.
As part of the scam, fraudsters send WhatsApp messages that appear to come from a friend or family member who receives the text.
The message will ask for the person to share their personal information, money or six-digit PIN under the pretence of needing immediate financial assistance.
Ms Baxter explained: “The messages are sent from the compromised accounts of your friends, so they look as if they’re coming from someone you know, or from an unknown number claiming to be a friend who has lost their phone or been ‘locked out’ of their account.
“The rising number of cases highlights why it’s important for all of us to protect ourselves, our friends and families from scams. Always report suspected cases – and take the free online training at friendsagainstscams.org.uk to help take a stand against scams.”
Craig Mullish, a temporary Detective Inspector from the City of London Police, outlined what people should be looking out for if they believe they have been targeted by a scam on WhatsApp.
The detective explained: “If you’re contacted out of the blue from a number you don’t recognise but the person is claiming to be someone you know and are requesting financial assistance – stop and think as it could protect you and your money.
“These messages may appear genuine but your money could end up in the pockets of a criminal, so it’s okay to reject, refuse or ignore any requests.
“Only criminals will try to rush or panic you. Try and reach out to the person directly by another form of communication to confirm that their request for help is genuine as it could be a scam.”
In a statement, Kathryn Harnett, Policy Manager at WhatsApp, explained how the messaging service is working towards trying to prevent further scams from happening.
Ms Harnett said: “WhatsApp protects our users’ personal messages with end-to-end encryption.
“But we want to remind people of the other ways they can keep their accounts safe and remain 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.
“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.”
Anyone who believes they have been a victim of this “convincing” WhatsApp scam is encouraged to reach out to Action Fraud immediately for support.