The New Zealand text, WhatsApp scam targeting parents after mum loses $12,000
Kiwis are on alert ahead of the holiday period after parents and family members have been receiving text messages from scammers posing as their children.
The messages claim the child’s phone is broken and provide a new number for the parent to save.
If a victim falls for the initial trap, the scammer then tells the parent to delete their child’s “old number” and replace it with the new one.
Then the scammer claims the new phone doesn’t have a banking app installed and asks for money to be sent urgently.
The scam text and WhatsApp messages, which appear to come from New Zealand phone numbers, have made their way to Australia.
One mother who fell victim to the scam in March was swindled out of more than $11,000.
Nina Merrilees, from Victoria, was at work when she received a message purporting to be from her daughter.
The WhatsApp message said: “Hi Mum, my phone is broken, this is my new number.”
Merrilees said it was “fairly standard” to receive a message from her daughter, who lives in New Zealand, telling her she had a new phone.
“She’s lived overseas for quite a few years and has lost her phone, broken her phone … so this was just normal to get a new number from her,” she told 7News.
Merrilees then followed the scammer’s instructions when asked to download a bank app and send money.
“I’m not sure about other parents, but we quite often make payments for our kids and they always pay us back straight away,” she said.
She sent three payments of A$3450, A$3800 and A$4350 using the Osko payment service.
The entire conversation was covered with love heart and smiley face emojis to conceal the scam.
The scammer said the money would all be paid back the next day, but the transaction left Merrilees feeling sick.
She emailed her daughter, who then called her immediately.
Merrilees said she felt her stomach sink when her daughter’s old number popped up on the screen.
“As soon as I saw that number flash up, I just knew I had been scammed out of $11,600 and just felt physically sick.”
She reported it to her bank but, because she made the transactions willingly, it would not reimburse her. It is not known whether she got her money back.
Her advice to other parents is to think twice if their children message them asking them to change their number or send money urgently.
“We thought we were pretty switched-on people and it can just happen so easily,” she said.
The scam has been around since 2022 but appears to have made a comeback.
How to avoid the scam
NetSafe chief online safety officer Sean Lyons said in 2022 that the organisation had already received multiple reports of the scam in New Zealand.
The best way to avoid the scam was to not panic.
“It really is about taking a moment to stop, think and breathe. It could be quite an emotional moment, where a child reaches out and says: Mum, Dad, I’m in trouble.”
But that emotion is exactly what the scammer wants.
“Think about what’s being asked of you and how likely, plausible and genuine this is.”
Scammers often used urgency tactics to provoke their victims, he said.
“Almost always the fear of loss, or that sense of impending [doom], is a hallmark across so many scams. Whether that’s ‘I need money, I’m in trouble’ or it’s ‘This investment is only around for a limited time,’ that time pressure is so often a hallmark.
“The more pressure you put somebody under, the less time they have to think rationally and do their due diligence.”
NetSafe and government agency CERT NZ allow victims to report scams and keep lists of common tactics.
The Telecommunications Forum (TCF) recommends these seven steps for spotting a scam text.
Spotting scams and staying safe
- Never click on links contained in text messages. Even if you think a text is legitimate, go to the organisation’s website using an address you have bookmarked and log on from there.
- Legitimate providers won’t ask you to install something to check your account or receive a delivery.
- Check the sender’s number. If it’s from a legitimate company (like a bank or a courier) it will be sent via computer and will probably use a four-digit number rather than an individual’s phone to send the messages. Your bank isn’t going to have someone sitting there with a phone sending out these messages manually, so if you get one from an individual number (eg 021 123 456) it’s probably fake.
- If you haven’t clicked on the link you don’t have to worry. A text message can’t infect your phone just by you opening it.
- If the text includes a phone number to contact the provider, don’t use it. Go to the provider’s website, look up their number and call them that way. Scammers will try to get you to talk to them so they can convince you to share information. Don’t trust those numbers.
- Report the scam text to the Department of Internal Affairs by forwarding it to 7726. The more reports they get, the better they’re able to assess the potential harm and act accordingly.
- Delete the text. Better not to have it around in case you accidentally click on it.
Article written by (NZ Herald, www.nzherald.co.nz. Original article)