WhatsApp family impersonation scam

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How to spot a WhatsApp impersonation scam

WhatsApp has become an irresistible place for fraudsters. We are seeing an increase in reports of scammers posing as family members and friends on WhatsApp. Sometimes this can also be a text or phone call, but they all have the common aim of encouraging the recipient to transfer money.

Here’s how this scam works:

  • A fraudster pretending to be a family member, often a daughter or son, starts a believable conversation with the recipient.
  • They will say they are messaging from a new number as their phone was lost or damaged.
  • Typically, the ‘child’ is short of money or is late paying bills, and asks the recipient to transfer money into an account.

In some cases, the victim has been careful enough to check with the relative and has realised it’s a scam before parting with any money.

However, this isn’t always the case. For example in 2021, we saw a victim lose £6,000 after receiving one of these messages.

Examples of WhatsApp scam messages

Below are real-life examples of WhatsApp scam messages - note how the fraudster attempts to move the conversation on once the intended victim has responded.

WhatsApp Scam Message Example WhatsApp Scam Message Example

How to avoid WhatsApp family impersonation scams

“Hey mum, it’s me...” is a very believable message to receive for many people, but if you’re contacted unexpectedly by a number you don’t recognise and they start requesting money - keep calm.

You may feel a sense of urgency in the messages as the scammer will try to convince you or pressurise you to pay quickly, but it is important to stop and think as it could protect you and your money.

Received a request for money in a message graphic

Here is what to do if you are suspicious:

  • Call the original number you have saved for that person to verify that you are messaging a family member.
  • Does the message sound like your family member? Look at the tone and language they’ve used in their messages. If you’re still in doubt, ask a question that only your family member could answer.

How to report scam messages

We have seen a rise in the number of WhatsApp scams in Northern Ireland and these cases particularly involve older people. We would ask you to share this information with family members and make them aware of what to do if they receive a suspicious message.

If you have any concerns about unsolicited calls, emails or letters then please report it on Action Fraud’s website or by phoning 0300 123 2040. You can also call police on the non-emergency number 101.

If you receive a suspicious message, whether by email, website or text message you can take the following actions:

Email – if you feel unsure about an email you have received, you can send it to the Suspicious Email Reporting Services. Email report@phishing.gov.uk

Website – If you have come across a website which you think is fake, you can report it via The National Cyber Security Centre website.

Text message – Report suspicious text messages for free to 7726. Your provider can investigate the text and take action if found to be fraudulent.

For further advice and information, visit the ScamwiseNI website or the ScamwiseNI Facebook page.