Fraud police have warned about a new text scam in which conmen pose as the children of victims to dupe them out of thousands of pounds.
Officers said almost £50,000 had already been lost to the emerging "hello mum" and "hello dad" frauds.
The scam sees people receive a WhatsApp message from a random number purporting to be a son or daughter, who has lost their phone.
Once victims save the new numbers as their son or daughter, scammers then ask for them to send them money to cover imminent payment coming out of their accounts.
Experts warned the "brazen" scam marked a shift in the kinds of online frauds that have exploded during the pandemic , in which scammers often pose as banks or government organisations to trick people into handing over their financial details.
Action Fraud, the UK's fraud policing unit, said some victims had lost as much as £3,000 to the scam and that fraudsters also asked for payments so the fake relative could buy a new phone.
Detective Inspector Craig Mullish, from the City of London Police, said: "If you're contacted out of the blue from a number you don't recognise but the person is claiming to be someone you know and is requesting financial assistance – stop and think as it could protect you and your money.
"These messages may appear genuine but your money could end up in the pockets of a criminal, so it's okay to reject, refuse or ignore any requests. Only criminals will try to rush or panic you. Try and reach out to the person directly by another form of communication to confirm that their request for help is genuine as it could be a scam."
One victim, Peter Saunt, from the village of Barwell in Leicestershire, lost £2,000 after scammers messaged him on WhatsApp posing as his son.
In the exchange, the fraudsters convinced him that his son’s credit cards had been blocked after losing his phone and then asked for £1,950 to cover a supposed imminent payment for an "online course".
Even after Mr Saunt had made the initial payment, the scammers continued to message him and pressure him for more money.
Speaking to the Leicester Mercury, he said: "Nothing indicated that it wasn't him, it was like a mirror image of a conversation I had with my son recently, why would I be suspicious.
"The feelings both my wife and I are going through are sickening, so I really want to get the message out please be very careful."
Figures from Action Fraud show that 25 instances of the scam have been reported between August and October, with victims losing a combined £48,356.
People have been warned not to transfer money to anyone, even those purporting to be a close family member, until they have spoken to them on the phone first.
On social media, some people who received the scam WhatsApp said they had rumbled the ruse when they asked the scammer which of their children was messaging only to be given vague answers such as "the oldest one".
Adam French, a consumer rights expert, for the consumer watch Which? said: "This is the latest brazen example of unscrupulous fraudsters evolving their tactics in their relentless efforts to trick more and more innocent victims into handing over money.
"Consumers should be extremely wary of WhatsApp and text messages requesting money, even if they appear to be coming from loved ones. If you're in any doubt, give the family member or friend a quick call to check if it’s really them.
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