A fraud expert has warned of a resurgence of a dangerous WhatsApp scam that aims to trick people into sending money.
Known as the ‘Hi mum’ or ‘Hi dad’ scam, the WhatsApp messages target parents and attempt to convince them to send money to a person posing as their child.
Typically blaming a lost phone or a financial emergency, the messages can seem very convincing.
While the scam initially appeared late last year, it appears to be picking up steam again.
Chris Ainsley, head of fraud risk management at Santander UK, said the ‘Hi mum’ trick is also appearing in other messaging forms, such as texts to mobile phones.
‘We saw a significant spate in fake WhatsApp messages pretending to be from people’s children,’ he said.
‘That’s still ongoing. It’s picked up again in the last month where we’re not just seeing it through WhatsApp but on ‘traditional’ SMS or text messages.
‘Someone just sends you a text message saying: ‘Hi dad,’ or ‘Hi mum,’ but then they just try to engineer the person into sending them a couple of thousand pounds in some cases.’
Victims of the ‘Hi mum’ WhatsApp scam
Last month, the mother of BBC football commentator Jacqui Oatley was targeted by the scam.
Sharing her mum’s experience on Twitter, Ms Oatley said the scam was ‘incredibly believable’ and that she ‘nearly’ fell for it.
Another mum, Angela Briscoe, said she wired a total of almost £10,000 over several transactions and has only been able to recover £5,000 of it through her bank.
Her son happened to be travelling in Mexico at the time, giving the fraudsters the perfect hook to make her believe he was in a tight spot.
Meanwhile, Australian scientist Alan Baxter also caught on to the scam.
He posted the entirety of the interaction on Twitter, showing how the scammers were trying to get him to pay $4,700 AUS (£2,691) by pretending to be his son.
According to Mr Ainsley, newer cases of the scam may try to add a twist to it – by requesting the money is sent to a friend or family member rather than directly to the scammer.
Of course, this is simply another smokescreen designed to confuse people.
Fraudsters may try to do this to give the appearance that the initial bank transfer is a relatively low risk ‘friends and family’ payment. With the money going through multiple accounts, it could also make it harder for banks to trace the cash.
How does the scam work?
After contacting someone with a ‘Hi mum’ or ‘Hi dad’ message which appears to be from their child, the fraudster will then try to persuade the recipient that their account has been compromised and they need to transfer cash to a friend or family member to keep their money ‘safe’.
They will be provided with details of an account which will be controlled by the fraudster or perhaps a money mule, and told to ask their friend or family member to transfer the money on to the other account.
Once the money has been transferred to the new account, the fraudster may cut off all contact and the victim will be unable to access their funds.
Mr Ainsley said: ‘Certainly it’s an indicator of how agile criminals can be.’
With students heading to university this autumn, parents could be more susceptible to fake requests for money from fraudsters pretending to be their children.
Mr Ainsley said: ‘It might be more common for someone to fall for it at that time of year. Certainly I think the timeframe we saw it really starting last year was around October, November.’
But he added some parents of adults who are older than university age have also been targeted.
In July, Action Fraud, the national reporting centre for fraud and cyber-crime, said scams involving criminals on WhatsApp pretending to be friends or family members were reported to it 1,235 times between February 3 and June 21, costing users a total of £1.5 million.
If you do 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, according to Whatsapp.