A text message sent by a son or daughter claiming that their phone had been stolen and they were using temporary numbers is unlikely to be caught on the radar of parents. It is especially suspicious if the message was signed with their name and kisses, or even an emoji of a heart-shaped love heart.

Many families are now realizing that the message may seem innocent, but it is actually a scam. It can cost them thousands.

Fraudsters are known as the “mum and daddy” or the “friend in crisis” con. They impersonate victims via WhatsApp’s text messaging platform.

Ex-headmistress Elizabeth Baker - who lives with retired church minister Hugh (pictured) - came close to losing more than £500 after a scammer pretended to be her daughter

Ex-headmistress Elizabeth Baker – who lives with retired church minister Hugh (pictured) – came close to losing more than £500 after a scammer pretended to be her daughter 

The claim they’re in desperate need of money is to make it seem like their relatives are willing to help them.

Santander saw a 532 Percent increase in this new scam from August to November of last year.

Nearly two thirds of the criminals impersonated someone’s son while 33% pretended they were their daughter.

Data from Action Fraud reveals victims lost nearly £50,000 between August and October last year; some victims are out of pocket by up to £3,000 each, says the fraud reporting body.

One family, which wishes to remain anonymous, was tricked out of £1,500.

Scammers called the father, pretending to be his child. He claimed she was a patient at a private clinic and was being pestered by a doctor for payment.

In total, 56 emails were sent by the fraudsters asking for help over two days. Her concerned father finally asked her grandparents to transfer the funds.

Only when her family called her that day did they realize he’d been scammed.

A conman tricked Cally Beaton's father out of £1,800

A conman tricked Cally Beaton’s father out of £1,800

According to the grandfather (75), “My granddaughter’s name is spelled very differently.” We didn’t believe that anyone could have written the same text as our granddaughter when it came up.

“My son called me panicking, saying that she needed money urgently. So we agreed to make the transfer.

“Once you realize it is a fraud, you will feel foolish.” It’s horrible.’

The money was refunded by his bank.

Elizabeth Baker, 70, came close to losing more than £500 after a scammer pretended to be her daughter Katrina. 

A WhatsApp message was sent to a grandmother-of-3 while she was on holiday at Eastbourne.

It read, “Hi Mum, my phone fell down the toilet. I’m unable to use it any more.”

The retired head of the prep school advised her first to put her phone in a bowl of rice. But then, the scammer started asking for money.

Elizabeth said: “The message stated that it was urgent and needed to be paid tomorrow. She also sent me bank details so I could transfer the money.” 

Katrina’s friend became suspicious, and she called Katrina. Katrina confirmed that Katrina had her phone in good condition.

Elizabeth who lives with Hugh, a former church minister, in Tamworth (Staffordshire), says: “Those messages could easily be from my daughter. This just goes to show how vulnerable we all are to scams.

That vulnerability, heightened by the pandemic, almost caught out Cally Beaton’s father: he nearly lost £1,800 to a WhatsApp scammer pretending to be one of his children. 

A message addressed to the retired teacher was sent last week. They claimed that they had broken their phone and were calling from a new number.

Cally, 52 years old, said that he and his father signed off the message with an “x” signifying my brother. He was very happy to hear from me brother, and was curious how I was doing.

The scammer then told her dad they had not checked their email for a while and needed to borrow £1,800 to pay a bill.

Cally’s father attempted to transfer the money via his online account. The bank however, stopped the payment, and demanded that Cally call them to authorize it.

Cally was called by the pensioner before he made any other calls. She told her father that it was a fraud. Cally, who is from Camden in North London, said that he was horrified to hear of people exploiting parents just wanting to speak to their kids during the pandemic.

Money Mail also spoke to a woman, 66, who paid £814 to a scammer posing as her son. She says he had been struggling financially due to the pandemic — which made the requests for money all the more believable.

Text messages were sent by the fraudster asking: “I must pay my bills immediately or the amount will increase,” and “Oh no, I cannot wait.”

Known as the 'friend in need' con, fraudsters impersonate their victims' loved ones via the text messaging service WhatsApp

Fraudsters use WhatsApp to impersonate loved ones of victims. This is known as the “friend in crisis” con.

Later, when she questioned her bank about where the payment was going, they told her it was into Prepaid Financial Services’ account (owned by EML Payments in Australia).

Trustpilot’s review page is full of complaints about the company. It is said that it is connected to WhatsApp scammers’ sort codes. 

One says: “I was scammed by WhatsApp messages that started with “hi mom” as other reviews. I was at work at the time and unfortunately fell for it, losing £945 into two accounts with this bank’s sort code.’

In September 2019, the firm was fined €1 million by the French banking regulator for lapses in its anti-money laundering controls, including failures to report suspicious card activity to the authorities. 

In May 2013, the Central Bank of Ireland opened an investigation into possible compliance problems at the company.

EML Cardholder Portal was rebranded. The company was not itself accused of fraud. However, the conduit firm was.

EML Ireland subsidiary has received approval from the Central Bank of Ireland for signing up new clients and launching new programmes.

The number of fraud cases has risen dramatically over the past 2 years. Crooks have been exploiting this pandemic to take advantage of vulnerable families.

Victims lost £4 million a day in the first six months of 2021, a 30 pc increase in losses compared to the same period in 2020. Criminals impersonating trustworthy organisations like Royal Mail or HMRC targeted many victims.

This latest scam demonstrates just how clever fraudsters can be.

Nearly two-thirds of the crooks were impersonating someone's son, while 33% pretended to be their daughter

Nearly two thirds of the criminals impersonated someone’s son while 33% pretend to be their daughter

Individual Protection Solutions (IPS), fraud experts, believes victims’ personal information are being sold to scammers online.

It is estimated that 71% of Britons have seen their details leak from an online account.

Charlie Shakeshaft (founder of IPS) advises, “This scam is growing more widespread because they work.” 

It is usually a sign that a scammer is trying to trick you. Be patient and ensure you get a response from your friend or family member using another channel. As long as they can be identified, a phone call works well.

WhatsApp and National Trading Standards are now working together on the Friends Against Scams campaign, which aims to eradicate this con.

Kathryn Harnett from WhatsApp is the policy manager.

A spokesperson for EML stated that the company provides financial services in Britain and meets all regulatory requirements. This includes our obligations to customers regarding due diligence, transaction monitoring, and customer reporting. 

“As an organization, we are committed to investing in top-of-the-line fraud monitoring technology.

According to a spokesperson for the Financial Conduct Authority, “If anyone suspects or falls victim to payment fraud, they are urged to notify their bank and Action Fraud.” 

If we have concerns that firms aren’t effectively protecting against financial crime, we will evaluate the intelligence received and take appropriate action.

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