On Thursday, July 15, BBC football pundit Jacqui Oatley was a guest on Jeremy Vine’s BBC Radio Two show to further issue a warning about a WhatsApp scam after her mother was among thousands of parents targeted into believing their children are in trouble and need cash.
Fraudsters are using the app to make contact with users, pretending to be their children with messages typically starting with, 'Hi mum/dad'.
In what has been dubbed the 'mum and dad WhatsApp scam', fraudsters impersonate their target's loved ones, telling them their number has changed and then ask for money.
The reasons the scammers give for needing money vary, but the trick is proving effective as they prey on parents' fears that their children are struggling due to the cost of living squeeze.
Criminals pretend to the parent that their child has lost their phone and are using a new number.
If the target asks to speak to their son or daughter, the conmen claim they can only text because the microphone on their mobile is broken.
BBC pundit Jacqui Oatley has shared screenshots of the messages that her mum received on Twitter, and has appeared on various newspaper websites warning people of the scam.
On Twitter she wrote: 'I'm keen to warn you about a scam which my lovely, kind mum so nearly fell for. It was incredibly believable. Someone pretends to be you but on a different number, contacts someone close to you and asks them to quickly pay a bill for you before you pay them back.'
Below are the screenshots Jacqui posted...
On the back of this, Jacqui told Jeremy Vine on his BBC Radio Two lunchtime show on July 15...
“This scam can happen to anyone, and it is happening to a lot of people because since I posted that Tweet with screenshots I have had possibly hundreds of replies, and so many of those people have said it's helped them.
“When people receive a WhatsApp message saying ‘Hi mum’ or ‘Hi dad, I've had to change my number, I broke my phone etc, can you delete my old number and save this one’, they're very clever because it means you then can't phone the old number to double check. But you need to be absolutely on alert because it leads to them building up a relationship and impersonating your son or daughter.
Jeremy then asked Jacqui about the type of message her mother received from the scammer. Jacqui said:
“So she received a message saying ‘Hi mum, it's me, this is my new number, you can save this number and delete the old one’, followed by a couple of friendly emojis. She then carried on an earlier conversation asking if P, that’s my daughter, liked the clothes that she posted pictures of and should she send them. The scammer replied saying ‘Oh yes she liked them, please send them’. It's all conversational to make my mum think that this person was actually me.
“It was only later in the conversation, having gained her confidence, that they brought up by the subject of money with ‘I've got these bills to pay but the problem is my online banking on my old phone number is not registered to my bank yet, and it's going to take about two days to be registered so could you just quickly pay this bill for me and I'll pay you straight back as soon as it's gone through?’ So again, the language was very chatty, sort of how I would speak to my mum. She said ‘Yes what do I need to do?, and they said ‘I will send the details'. Then they posted the account name, sort code and account reference and asked 'Can you send me proof of payment when it's done?’. My mum said ‘How much did you want me to send?’ The amount was £2,291.
“At this point my mum tried to call me but I couldn't answer as I was working. They then replied after a few minutes saying ‘Is it done? I'm really stressed mum, can you help?’ Luckily my mum did manage to get hold of me and when she did she said ‘Was it you that asked me to transfer some money online?, and I feel really bad about this now, but I said ‘Of course it wasn't mum, it’ll be some random scammer in another country, please tell me you didn't fall for that did you?’
“I got her to send me the screenshots of the conversation and at that point I said ‘Mum I'm so sorry that I slightly belittled the idea that you might be thinking it was genuine’, because this looked so genuine.
“Fortunately, the grammar and the spelling was so bad on the texts that it actually alerted her that it probably wasn't me, because I'm a bit of a stickler for spelling! So that's another way of picking things up, if it's not quite in the style you use, or they don't use the same emojis as you might with your parents.”
Jeremy then spoke to Dan Whitworth, reporter from BBC Radio Four’s Money Box, who said these scammers were “insidious”. Talking about Jacqui’s case, he said:
“The way they manipulated and tricked her mum with the language they were using, the term is social engineering.
Dan remarked on how the scammer latched on to a conversation about some clothes and how such detailed chats are used to trick the confidence of their target, and how it’s all part of proving that the scammer really is who they claim to be.
“The scammer, or the scumbag as I like to call these fraudsters, who did this will never be caught, we’ll never know who they are and although Jacqui’s mother was able to spot the scam before she transferred any money, they would no doubt have been very successful with other people otherwise they wouldn’t do it.
“Some fraud figures have been released by UK Finance, the representative group of the banking industry within the UK. Impersonation scams, in the space of one year, are up by 55%, so last year in 2021, £130,000,000 was stolen from 29,000 victims. That works out at an average loss of about £4,500 per person.
“Obviously, Jacqui realised how sophisticated these scammers were when she saw the messages that they had sent to her mum, but when she initially said ‘oh mum, how could you have fallen for that?’, remember: anyone can become a victim of fraudsters. They play on vulnerabilities and manipulate them.
My advice is that if you get strange messages from strange numbers simply do not engage; always try and speak to the person involved in these impersonation scams. The proof is in the pudding: if it's a scammer, they'll still come up with some excuse why they can't speak to you; some excuse why they can't send you a photo to prove it's who they say they are. If that is the case, just do not engage. “
Jeremy then spoke to listeners who had rang in with similar accounts, and received texts and emails detailing near replica scenarios to Jacqui’s.
A common theme was ‘Hi mum, I have dropped my phone down the loo, I'm using a spare one, this is my new number, delete the old one’.
A caller from the Derbyshire Dales said a scammer had impersonated his son and said he had put his phone in the washing machine, again with a message saying ‘This is my new number, delete the old one’.
A lady in Dronfield emailed in to say ‘I received a message saying it was from my son and he had been mugged at knife point, but had got a new phone. I tried ringing him to no avail. He said could I help him as he had a bill needing paying. I stupidly sent my card details and lost £800’.
You can listen to the show via BBC Sounds here: Jeremy Vine - 14/07/2022 - BBC Sounds. Head to 1:06 on the timeline.
In another example, a couple of weeks ago a pensioner from Dorset told ITV's This Morning how she lost £10,000 from her savings after falling for the scam. You can read her story and watch the clip from this morning here.
So, if you receive a message similar to the ones outlined in this blog, double check it really is your son or daughter. Do not send any money until you’re absolutely certain it’s them.
We urge people to share this message, particularly with elderly relatives who may be more susceptible to this scam.
If you believe you or someone you know has been a victim of fraud, contact Action Fraud on the details below.
Report all Fraud and Cybercrime to Action Fraud by calling 0300 123 2040 or online. Forward suspicious emails to firstname.lastname@example.org. Report SMS scams by forwarding the original message to 7726 (spells SPAM on the keypad).