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Action Fraud says WhatsApp scam in which fraudsters message with 'hello Mum' has cost people £1.5 million this year



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A WhatsApp scam, in which fraudsters typically start the conversation by pretending to be a family member, has cost victims more than £1 million in just five months.

New data released by Action Fraud says the scam, in which criminals send a message that usually begins 'hello Mum' or 'hello Dad', is continuing to catch people out - and with hundreds of thousands of university students setting off on fresh adventures later this summer fraud experts are warning parents who will be naturally anxious about their child being away, not to fall victim to the crime.

The messages typically start with 'Hello Mum' or 'Hello Dad'
The messages typically start with 'Hello Mum' or 'Hello Dad'

More than 1,200 reports of the scam have been logged solely between February and June - costing victims £1.5 million in total - with Northamptonshire Police announcing yesterday that £25,000 had been taken from its residents in just two months.

The fraudsters message to say they are using a new or different mobile number because their phone was lost or damaged, and then go on to ask for money to purchase a new phone or request cash because they urgently need to pay a bill that is due.

The criminals then supply their bank details for payment, with some coming back on multiple occasions requesting more money until the victim eventually realises they've been scammed.

Fraudsters message through WhatsApp claiming they've broken their phone but need money. Photo: Stock image.
Fraudsters message through WhatsApp claiming they've broken their phone but need money. Photo: Stock image.

Action Fraud, the national reporting centre for cyber crime, has been tracking the fraud attempts closely and is warning mobile phone users to not send any money until identities at the other end have been confirmed.

Detective Chief Inspector Craig Mullish, from the City of London Police which is responsible for the fraud department, 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."

Parents of university students are being warned to be alert to the circulating scam. Image: iStock.
Parents of university students are being warned to be alert to the circulating scam. Image: iStock.

How to protect yourself

If a family member or friend does make an unusual request over WhatsApp the advice is to return with a phone call to confirm their identity.

You can also report spam messages and block senders using the app by holding on the message bubble, selecting 'report' and then by following instructions.

Users should also never share their account's six-digit activation code sent by an SMS, says Action Fraud, and anyone who thinks they've been a victim should contact their bank immediately and report the incident to Action Fraud by calling 0300 123 2040.