Please, Mom ! WhatsApp scammers pose as loved ones to steal money | Money

AAfter chatting on WhatsApp about the latest round of ozark, the daughter of Paula Leonard* broached a difficult topic: she needed to pay two bills because she had been locked out of her online banking account after buying a new phone.

Leonard immediately moved to help his US-based daughter, as she has done in the past.

“There was this chatter and a lot of use of the word mum,” she says. “I think it was so smart because you have a Pavlovian response to ‘mommy’ of your kids. It takes you.

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

It was when there was a demand for a third sum of £1,276 and an allegation that bailiffs were threatening to take action that Leonard, 75, realized there could be a problem. “While I was texting her, I emailed her and got a message that said, ‘That’s not me mum, this must be a scam. “”

That’s when she phoned the bank.

Leonard is a victim of the latest form of online balloon fraud, in which people are contacted by fraudsters claiming to be family members, who say they have lost their mobile and also access to online banking to pay their bills. bills.

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

When Leonard tried to call the number during the scam, there was a crackling line and then a text came in saying “I think my mic is broken”.

When she didn’t respond to the final request, the criminals continued with “Mom?” and “Is it done?”.

Then Leonard received text messages from another number, with a picture of a woman, saying, “I’m so sorry my son Joshua did this to you, and I’ll do whatever I can to get the silver.” She saw this as an attempt by the fraudsters to reopen communication.

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

“These scammers are well aware that if you can add the psychological element to a scam, they perform much better than previously used phishing emails dumped on a network, where they would see maybe 3% to 4% d ‘a comeback’, he says.

“When you’re called mum or dad, that’s what a lot of people would have in their repertoire. Tackling the chord of saying they’ve lost their phone – that fits in with what’s very likely.

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

Charlie Shakeshaft, founder of Individual Protection Solutions, which aims to warn against scams, says scammers exchange information about potential victims, including so-called ‘sucker lists’ of people who have fallen for these crimes before. From there, criminals can identify age groups of people who are likely to have college-aged children and who, for example, might be asking for money.

Typically, the conversation on WhatsApp, or via text, is initiated by an automated bot and then passed on to a human who can communicate with the victim if they engage, Moore says. “Some may take weeks because they believe that if they can really fool these people, it’s worth it,” he says.

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

Leonard says the loss of almost £3,000 hurts financially, but is also infuriating 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 has a warning when transferring money to be aware of scams, but she continued with the payment because the money request was similar to what her daughter had requested in the past.

Nationwide, where she holds her account, told Cash she would issue a full refund “given the individual circumstances of the case.” It says that since there were warnings about the application, the building society had fulfilled its obligations under the Contingent Reimbursement Model (CRM), a code of practice designed to give victims fairer and more coherent.

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

“When making a reimbursement decision, we consider a range of factors, including whether it was reasonable to believe the situation the member found themselves in.

“In this case, her daughter lives abroad and is returning home. Her daughter has already received money from her mother. Therefore, a request like this was not unusual.

WhatsApp says the company launched a campaign last year called “Stop. Think. Call,” encouraging people to pause and consider whether unusual or urgent requests for money seem strange and to call someone. before transferring funds.

“We designed WhatsApp to protect people from unwanted contacts, so whenever you receive a message from someone who is not in your contacts, we ask you if you want to block or report them. We then review reports of abuse, and if we find an account has violated our terms of service, we will ban it,” it says.

“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 assist law enforcement with investigations in response to valid legal claims.”

The company advises people who receive a suspicious message to request a voice note to verify that someone is really who they claim to be.

Lloyds warns people to be wary of any number not already in their contacts and to try the stored original number of the person who apparently makes contact.

HSBC, Britain’s largest bank, also pointed to the growing number of victims of fraud. “WhatsApp is usually the platform where we see this happening, most often,” the bank explains.

The Lending Standards Board (LSB), which oversees CRM, says organizations need to work together. “Other sectors need to partner with financial service providers and understand where the pain points are in the customer journey, so that each organization can take responsibility for intervention at the right time,” the director said. General Emma Lovell.

* The name has been changed

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