‘Friend in need’ scams costs Whatsapp users £1.5 million

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A convincing WhatsApp scam where criminals pose as a friend or family member in need has cost victims over £1.5 million this year.

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New data from Action Fraud, the national reporting centre for fraud and cyber crime, reveals the continued threat posed by a scam that involves criminals contacting victims on WhatsApp and pretending to be their friend or a family member.

The scam has been reported to Action Fraud 1,235 times between 3 February and 21 June this year, and has cost users a total of £1.5m.

Criminals will typically claim to be a family member and will usually begin the conversation with “Hello Mum” or “Hello Dad”.

They will say that they are texting from a new mobile number as their phone was lost or damaged and will go on to ask for money to purchase a new phone, or claim that they need money urgently to pay a bill.

The criminal will supply their bank details for payment, with some coming back on multiple occasions until the victim realises they’ve been scammed.

Detective Chief Inspector Craig Mullish, from the City of London Police, said:

“If you receive a message like this from a friend or family member, don’t send any money until you’ve had a chance to call them and confirm their identity. Taking a moment to stop and think before parting with your money or information could keep you safe.”

How to protect yourself

STOP. THINK. CALL. If a family member or friend makes an unusual request on WhatsApp, always call the person to confirm their identity.

You can report spam messages or block a sender within WhatsApp. Press and hold on the message bubble, select ‘Report’ and then follow the instructions.

Never share your account’s activation code (that’s the 6 digit code you receive via SMS)

Action Fraud advises that the public follow the advice of the Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign to keep themselves safe from fraud.

  • Stop: Taking a moment to stop and think before parting with your money or information could keep you safe.
  • Challenge: Could it be fake? It’s okay to reject, refuse or ignore any requests. Only criminals will try to rush or panic you.
  • Protect: If you think you’ve been a victim of fraud, contact your bank immediately and report it to Action Fraud online at actionfraud.police.uk or by calling 0300 123 2040.

How to report

  • You can report suspicious text messages you have received but not acted upon, by forwarding the original message to 7726, which spells SPAM on your keypad.
  • You can report suspicious emails you have received but not acted upon, by forwarding the original message to report@phishing.gov.uk.
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