WhatsApp scams are on the rise and the app is now the latest tool that fraudulent criminals are using to commit impersonation fraud, according to a study by Lloyds Bank.
Fraudsters are using the app to pretend to be family or friends asking for financial help from WhatsApp users. In 2020 this began relatively small but by 2021 the number of scams traced to WhatsApp usage has risen by 2000%, with victims losing an average of £1950 each.
Even though traditional scams like pretending to be from a bank, Royal Mail, HMRC or similar, still account for most impersonation fraud that’s reported, but in fact these numbers went down by about 14% last year.
The WhatsApp scam surge also shows how organised criminal gangs stay in their tows to continue working their scams without detection, and how fast they can adapt. For example, while banks are constantly altering their fraud detection systems to keep up, the WhatsApp scam shows how much other sectors have to keep up, since nearly all scams now being either online, via social media or through phone calls or text messages.
How the WhatsApp scams work
Most fraudsters will blanket post the same message to lots of phone numbers to see if they get any responses. The scammers will then pretend to be a family member who has bought an emergency replacement for a lost phone, hence the different phone number.
Approaches vary but most often the scammers will claim to simply be ‘Mum’ or ‘Dad’ and say they don’t have access to their bank account to pay an urgent bill.
How to stay safe
Always be wary of ANY messages, no matter how real they seem, you receive from unknown contacts, even if it appears to be from someone familiar.
Always check with the stored number of the person this is claiming to be. It doesn’t take much to text or call a friend or family member and ask, “was this from you?” before doing anything. If it’s genuine, the person at the other end won’t mind being contacted.
Lloyds Bank is running a social media campaign to warn people of the risks that modern scammers are posing.
Liz Ziegler, Fraud Prevention Director at Lloyds Bank, said: “Organised criminal gangs are always inventing new ways to dupe people out of their hard-earned cash, and the emergence of the WhatsApp scam over the last year shows the depths to which these heartless crooks are prepared to sink.
“This is a cruel scam which preys on someone’s love for their family and friends, and that natural instinct we all have to protect those closest to us.
“With fraud on the rise it’s vital that people are aware of the warning signs and how to stay safe. Never ever trust a message from an unknown number without first independently verifying the person’s identity, even if it claims to be from someone you know. Always insist on speaking to someone before sending any money.”
Also don’t forget to read our own guide into how to protect yourself from Impersonation Scams.
Always stay aware and notify your loved ones that this can happen. Because, even if it may not be you that these scams impact. Your Mum, or the person you are messaging might not be as clued up.