Please mom! WhatsApp scammers pose as family members to steal money | Money – After world

ONEAfter chatting on WhatsApp about the latest series of Ozark, the daughter of Paula Leonard* broached a difficult subject: she had to pay two bills because she was locked out of her online bank account after getting a new phone.

Leonard immediately relocated to help her daughter, who lives in the United States, as she had done in the past.

“There was this chatter and the word mom was used a lot,” she says. “I think that was so clever because you have a Pavlovian reaction to ‘mama’ from your children. That gets you.”

Over the next hour, she arranged for two bank transfers to the same account – one for £1,523 and another for £1,345.

When a third sum of £1,276 was claimed and it was claimed bailiffs were threatening action, Leonard, 75, realized there might be a problem. “While texting her, I emailed her and got a message back saying, ‘That’s not me mom, that must be a scam.'”

Then she called the bank.

Leonard is a victim of Balloon Online’s latest scam where people are contacted by scammers claiming to be members of their family who say they lost their cell phone and also lost access to online banking to pay bills .

Lloyds Bank says the number of cases reported by customers has skyrocketed by the end of last year, with victims losing an average of £1,950 each.

When Leonard tried to call the number during the scam, the line crackled, then came a text message saying “I think my mic is broken.”

When she didn’t respond to the last prompt, the criminals continued, “Mum?” and “Is it ready?”.

Leonard then received a text message from another number with a photo of a woman that said, “I’m really sorry my son Joshua did this to you and I will do whatever it takes to get the money back.” The scammers attempt to resume communication.

Impersonating family members is a new tactic used by criminals to undermine people’s mental defenses against fraud, says Jake Moore, cybersecurity consultant at internet security firm ESET.

“These scammers are well aware that if you can add the psychological element to a scam, they work much better than the previously used phishing emails that are thrown as a web where they get maybe 3% to 4% of a would see returns,” he says.

“If you are called mum or dad, a lot of people have that in their phone book. Blackmailing the heart by saying they lost their phone — that fits what is very likely.”

Moore says it’s easy for criminals to access a database of names, phone numbers and dates of birth through the dark web and social media channels.

Charlie Shakeshaft, founder of Individual Protection Solutions, which aims to warn against scams, says scammers share information about potential victims, including so-called “sucker lists” of people who have previously fallen for these crimes. From there, the criminals can identify age groups of people who may have college-age children and ask for money, for example.

Typically, the conversation on WhatsApp or via text message is started by an automated bot and then routed to a human who can communicate with the victim if they engage, Moore says. “Some can take weeks, believing that if they can really dupe these people, it might be worth it,” he says.

This method is particularly sinister, says Shakeshaft. “People’s natural instinct is to worry about their child, and using that to steal money from a victim is pure evil.”

Leonard says the loss of nearly £3,000 hurts financially but is also enraging for someone who considers themselves self-sufficient and aware of the threats. “It hit my confidence and my pride,” she adds.

She says her banking app comes with a warning when she transfers money to be alert to fraud, but she proceeded with the payment as the cash request was similar to what her daughter had asked for in the past.

Nationwide, where she holds her account, told Cash it would issue a full refund “given the individual circumstances of the case.” Since there were warnings in the app, the building society has complied with its obligations under the Contingent Refund Model (CRM), a code of practice aimed at providing victims with fairer and more consistent compensation.

Part of the WhatsApp exchange between Paula Leonard and the scammer posing as her daughter.

“When deciding on a refund, we consider a number of factors, including whether it was reasonable to believe the situation the member was in.

“In this case, her daughter lives abroad and is about to return home. Her daughter previously received money from her mother. So a request like this was not uncommon.”

WhatsApp says the company launched a campaign last year called “Stop. Consider. Call,” encouraging people to stop and consider if unusual or urgent requests for money seem odd, and to call someone before transferring money.

“We developed WhatsApp to protect people from unwanted contacts. That’s why whenever you receive a message from someone who isn’t in your contacts, we’ll ask you if you want to block or report them. We then review reports of abuse and if we find that an account has violated our Terms of Service, we will suspend it.”

“We use a combination of techniques to enforce our policies and prevent abuse, including machine learning techniques to combat fake accounts and fraudulent activity, and we assist law enforcement with their investigations in response to valid legal requests.”

The company advises people who receive a suspicious message to ask for a voice memo to verify that someone is really who they say they are.

Lloyds is warning people to be wary of numbers that aren’t already in their contacts and to try the originally saved number of the person who appears to be making contact.

HSBC, Britain’s largest bank, has also highlighted the growing number of victims of the scam. “WhatsApp is usually the platform where we see this most of the time,” the bank says.

The Lending Standards Board (LSB), which oversees the CRM, says organizations need to work together. “Other sectors need to engage with financial services providers and understand where the pain points lie in the customer journey so that each organization can take ownership of intervention at the right point,” said Emma Lovell, Managing Director.

* Name has been changed

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