A text or WhatsApp message from a “friend in need” asking for money or personal information could be a scammer, a new awareness campaign has warned.
More than half (59%) of people have received a message-based scam in the last year or know someone who has, according to a new awareness drive launched by WhatsApp in partnership with National Trading Standards.
The “Stop. Think. Call.” campaign aims to help educate people on how to protect themselves and their WhatsApp account from message-based scams.
Message-based scams could include text messages as well as those received on WhatsApp.
The campaign urges people to:
– Stop: Take time before you respond. Make sure your WhatsApp two-step verification is switched on to protect your account, that you are happy with your privacy settings.
– Think: Does this request make sense? Are they asking for money? Remember that scammers prey on people’s kindness, trust and willingness to help.
– Call: Verify that it really is your friend or family member by calling them directly, or asking them to share a voice note. Only when you are 100% sure the request is from someone you know and trust, should you consider it. If it turns out to be untrue, report it to Action Fraud.
Louise Baxter, head of the National Trading Standards scams team and Friends Against Scams, said reports of “friend-in-need” scams have been growing in recent months.
She said: “Scammers send messages that appear to come from a friend or family member asking for personal information, money or a six-digit pin number.
“The messages are sent from the compromised accounts of your friends, so they look as if they’re coming from someone you know, or from an unknown number claiming to be a friend who has lost their phone or been ‘locked out’ of their account. These kinds of scams are particularly cruel as they prey on our kindness and desire to help friends and family.”
The campaign said research has shown that people aged under 34 are significantly more likely to prefer a text-based method of communication to a phone call.
Kathryn Harnett, policy manager at WhatsApp, said: “WhatsApp protects our users’ personal messages with end-to-end encryption, but we want to remind people that we all have a role to play in keeping our accounts safe by remaining vigilant to the threat of scammers.
“We advise all users never to share their six-digit pin code with others, not even friends or family, and recommend that all users set up two-step verification for added security.
“If you receive a suspicious message (even if you think you know who it is from), calling or requesting a voice note is the fastest and simplest way to check someone is who they say they are. A friend in need is a friend worth calling.”
Citizens Advice Scams Action is also supporting the campaign, having seen an increase in messaging scams over the past year, including friend-in-need scams such as:
– A scammer who claimed they were a friend stuck abroad and had to find hundreds of pounds to get home. When the person said they were unable to help they were blocked.
– A parent who realised that a scammer was posing as their son asking for money via WhatsApp. They called their son to check and realised it was a scam.
– A parent who received a WhatsApp message supposedly from their daughter saying they had had to change their number. It went on to ask for help paying a bill but the parent realised it was a scam.
Citizens Advice Scams Action is encouraging anyone who is worried about being targeted to visit its website to get help with online scams.
Friends Against Scams runs free online training sessions to empower people to take a stand against scams, helping identify different types of scams and providing directions on how to report them.
The campaign also recruits “scambassadors”, who are MPs, senior officials or someone who will use their influence to raise the profile of scams at a national level.
Scambassador Joel Dommett said: “Simply remembering to Stop. Think. Call. when you get an unusual message may save you a lot of money and inconvenience in the long run.”
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