Experts warn of WhatsApp 'family emergency' scam targeting Brits across the country


Online safety is increasingly important, even for popular platforms like WhatsApp. With over 2 billion users worldwide, WhatsApp has become a favourite target for fraudsters and tactics have become more ingenious and effective than ever.

The majority of users are vulnerable when online, making it an irresistible platform for scammers.

Cybersecurity experts from VPN Overview have compiled their top tips on how to recognise WhatsApp scams and how to prevent them.

What is WhatsApp fraud (friend or family emergency scam)?

WhatsApp fraud is a form of fraud in which cybercriminals pretend to be a victim’s acquaintance and then ask them for money. Currently, most of those criminals pose as a friend or family member and ask for financial help because “they urgently have to pay a (high) bill” or “they have an emergency and urgently need some money”.

Usually, the perpetrators pretend to be in a hurry, most likely to entice their victims to take immediate action. That is why this type of fraud is also referred to as a friend or family emergency scam. Sadly, on average victims loose thousands of dollars to WhatsApp scams. Age also seems to be a factor, with most of the victims being over 50 years old.

In most cases the phone number used by the criminal to commit WhatsApp fraud is unknown to the victim, yet the attached profile picture is familiar. Consequently, the victim thinks that he or she is indeed communicating with a friend or family member. However, criminals can easily copy a photo from other social media platforms, such as Facebook or Instagram. The same applies to other information that can be used to mislead the victim. Like the vocabulary an individual may use, or certain events the individual may have posted about online (“Should’ve asked you for help when we were in that bar yesterday…”).

What are the tell-tale signs of WhatsApp scams?

  • Scammer creates a sense of urgency and pressures you to pay quickly.
  • Scammer contacts you from an unknown number.
  • Scammer informs about a number change and quickly talks about money.
  • Poor English is used in their messages.
  • Scammer does not want to be called.
  • Scammer asks for money to be transferred to an unknown account or uses an app that hides account numbers.

Tips to prevent WhatsApp fraud

  • Check if the number is correct if someone asks for money.
  • Check the language and communication style of the message.
  • Call the number or contact the person in a different way to verify the story.
  • Do not let the fraudster pressure you; think logically
  • Ask the scammer a question only your friend or acquaintance would know the answer to if suspicious.
  • Secure voicemail with a personal code.
  • Never send a verification code without questioning.
  • Set up "2-Factor Authentication" on WhatsApp.

Remember that the tips provided above are not only important to protect yourself. If criminals manage to hijack your WhatsApp account, they can easily scam your contacts and possibly take over the accounts of your friends and family as well.

I’ve been a victim of WhatsApp fraud, what can I do?

If you have been a victim of WhatsApp fraud, it is important to remain calm and report the incident to your bank and the police. Depending on the circumstances, it may be possible to reverse the payment, but individuals must act quickly. Wire transfers are harder to recover, and online payment services or apps can complicate the process. Even if a refund is not issued, the bank will investigate the fraud claim to protect customers and prevent future fraud. Reporting scams to WhatsApp and AnyScam is also recommended, and national help groups for victims of fraud can assist individuals in dealing with the process and preventing future fraud.