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‘Hello mum’ WhatsApp scam skyrockets, costing parents thousands

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The WhatsApp app icon on a smartphone
The WhatsApp app icon on a smartphone

A new “child in need” scam where fraudsters trick money out of parents by posing as offspring in need of financial help has “skyrocketed”, one of Britain's biggest banks has warned.

Santander is one of the latest financial institutions to warn of the fraud, which has grown at an alarming rate. It has been inundated with reports from customers being caught out by the scam circulating on the messaging platform WhatsApp, with reported cases up more than 500pc, the bank said.

Victims receive a message from a random number purporting to be a son or daughter who has lost their phone. Once parents are convinced they are speaking to their child, scammers ask them to send money to cover an imminent payment coming out of their accounts.

Britons have already lost tens of thousands of pounds to the emerging “hello Mum” and “hello Dad” fraud, according to Action Fraud, the scams arm of the police, which warned about the new con last month.

Some who have been the target of the scam but escaped have shared their experiences on social media, warning others. Others have not been so lucky, however.

One mother lost close to £1,000 to a criminal gang posing as her daughter, Santander said. WhatsApp messages from the scammers said the girl had changed her phone number and that she needed money to buy a new laptop as the bank had put a 48-hour block on her account.

The woman, who was abroad at the time, gave into the requests. She then revealed another message thanking her and telling her to enjoy her trip – an effort from the gang to throw her off the scent and avoid her twigging and calling the bank to block the payment.

Chris Ainsley, of the bank, said the volume of the scams had “skyrocketed over the past few months”. “By preying on people’s relationships with their loved ones, while simultaneously applying immense pressure, these crooks are successfully getting into people’s heads and persuading them to hand over their hard-earned cash,” he said.

The bank found that scammers posed as sons in two thirds of cases and as daughters in need the rest of the time.

Kathyrn Harnett of WhatAapp said customers needed to be vigilant of potential financial crime. “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,” she added.

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