WhatsApp and SMS scam: The ‘Hi mum’ trick

Kathleen Altmann

“Hi Mum. My phone just broke. So you can delete that number and save this one. Can you send me a WhatsApp message? Thanks!” The message may seem harmless, banal even, but it might be a sign of attempted fraud. In fact, for some time now this had been a common scam used by criminals to separate unsuspecting parents from their money. But there are a few easy things you can do to make sure it doesn’t happen to you.

Trust, certainly, but don’t forget to verify!

The worst thing about this trick is that even if the text is sent from an unknown number, many parents find this type of contact very plausible and are inclined to trust the sender. After all, people change numbers all the time, so it doesn’t seem that out of the ordinary. If they do what the scammer requests and save the new number, the sender continues to text with them, sending messages that seem harmless at first. The idea is to build up trust and convince the victim that they really are communicating with their child. Sooner or later, however, the scammer pretends to have a financial emergency, and the ‘son’ or ‘daughter’ of the victim asks for their parent’s help in the form of a money transfer. 

One such ‘emergency’ might be that the ‘child’ cannot access their online banking account because their old phone is broken, but desperately needs to transfer money to pay bills. The parent is asked to help out ‘just this once’ by making the payment. The scammer then sends their own bank account details. 

This scam can be very hard to recognise, because the stories the scammers tell often seem very realistic and understandable. Of course, any money transferred ends up in the hands of the scammers. And once the money is out of your account, there’s no way to get it back. It’s gone.

How to protect yourself

  • Be sceptical of any messages you receive from unknown numbers via WhatsApp or SMS. 
  • If you receive this type of message, it’s best to call your child immediately on their ‘old’ phone number to actually hear their voice and verify the story.
  • Never transfer money unless you are absolutely certain that the person asking you to transfer it really is your child asking for help. 
  • Block the scammer’s number as soon as you have seen through their scam. That ensures you will no longer receive messages from them.
  • If you suspect that you are being scammed, inform the police. 
  • In general, you should be careful when providing information via the internet. Only provide your telephone number if it is truly necessary.

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