Scamwatch is urging the public to be wary of phone messages from a family member or friend claiming they need help, following a significant rise in “Hi Mum” scams in recent months.
More than 1,150 Australians fell victim to the so-called “Hi Mum” scam in the first seven months of this year, with total reported losses of $2.6 million. The vast majority of these scams were reported in June and July 2022.
Known as “Hi Mum” or “family impersonation” scams, victims are contacted - most often through WhatsApp - by a scammer posing as a family member or friend.
The scammer will claim they have lost or damaged their phone and are making contact from a new number. Then, once they have developed a rapport with their target, the scammer will ask for personal information such as photos for their social media profile or money to help urgently pay a bill, contractor or replace the phone.
These requests continue the ruse of a lost or broken phone with the justification that the funds are needed because they can’t access their online banking temporarily.
Some messages will simply say “it’s me,” while in other cases the scammers appear to have contact information and use the name of the person they are impersonating.
“We have seen an explosion in the number of ‘Hi Mum’ scams in the past couple of months, and so we are warning Australians to be very wary of messages from unknown numbers claiming to be from their children, parents, relatives or friends,” ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.
“Scammers will stop at nothing to get your personal details or money and this particular scam is designed to pull your heartstrings. It’s important to stop and think if you get a message, especially on WhatsApp, because chances are it’s not your family member or friend – it’s a scammer.”
The ACCC is urging people who receive suspicious messages from a number they don’t recognise, to independently verify the contact.
“If you’re contacted by someone claiming to be your son, daughter, relative or friend, start by calling them on the number already stored in your phone to confirm if it’s no longer in use. If they pick up – you know it’s a scam,” Ms Rickard said.
“If unable to make contact, you should try a secondary contact method to verify who you’re speaking to. If you still can’t contact your family member or friend, consider asking a personal question a scammer couldn’t know the answer to, so you know the person you are speaking to is who they say they are.”
“Above all, never send money without being absolutely sure who you are sending it to,” Ms Rickard said.
Over two-thirds of family impersonation scams have been reported by women over 55 years of age, accounting for more than $1.4 million in losses.
“Unfortunately, these unscrupulous scammers are targeting women and older Australians, with 82 per cent of family impersonation scams reported by people over the age of 55, accounting for 95 per cent of all reported losses,” Ms Rickard said.
“If you have reason to believe you have been scammed, contact your bank as soon as possible as they may be able to find where the money went, block scam accounts and help others to avoid sending money to scammers.”
If you have provided personal information, as most victims have, contact IDCARE immediately.
More information about scams can be found in the ACCC’s latest Targeting Scams report.
The ACCC-run Scamwatch aims to raise awareness about how to recognise, avoid and report scams. It shares intelligence and works with government, law enforcement and the private sector to disrupt and prevent scams.
If you have experienced a loss online and believe the perpetrator is in Australia, you can report the scam to ReportCyber. ReportCyber triages all reports and allocates to the relevant law enforcement authorities for further action.
For crisis support to help with emotional distress about scams contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or access support via the online chat between 7pm and midnight www.lifeline.org.au. Beyond Blue also provides support for anxiety and depression 1300 22 4636 or chat online www.beyondblue.org.au.
Media enquiries: 1300 138 917