The scam WhatsApp impersonation scam 

532% increase in scams from August to November 2021
65% impersonated victim’s son, 33% daughter, 1% friend; 1% mum or other 

How the scam works  
1.    The fraudster sends a message on WhatsApp claiming to be a family member or friend.
2.    The message may appear to come from an unknown number or from the ‘correct’ number, if a phone number has been spoofed or a Whatsapp account hacked. 
3.    If the message is from an unknown number, the fraudster – posing as the family member or friend – will claim that there has been an emergency or accident, and they are having to use a different phone.
4.    The fraudster will then ask for money to pay an urgent bill or help them out of a financial difficulty, and provide account details of where to send the money to. They often try to deter you from calling, such as having poor signal.  
5.    The fraudster exploits the apparent relationship with the victim, as well as applies significant pressure, to make the victim act quickly and not question the request.  

Chris Ainsley, Head of Fraud Control, Santander UK: 
“We’ve seen the volume of WhatsApp scams skyrocket over the last few months. By preying on people’s relationships with their loved ones, while simultaneously applying immense pressure, these crooks are successfully getting into people’s heads and persuading them to hand over their hard-earned cash. Don’t let them win – verify who you’re messaging, before sending money.” 

What to do
If you receive an unexpected message from a loved one on a number you don’t know or receive a suspicious message, either phone them back to verify that it’s them or ask them a personal question that only they would know the answer to. 

If you think you’ve already been the victim of a WhatsApp scam, report it to your bank straight away.  

How to protect yourself 

•    Treat any request for money with suspicion, especially if it looks urgent.  Even if family members or friends regularly contact you to ask for cash, double check before sending. Call your friend or family member to check the detail – do not use WhatsApp to complete the call.
•    Set up the two-step verification option on your messenger app for extra security.
•    Make sure your messenger app is up to date and block any numbers that are suspicious.
•    Use common sense – if something doesn’t feel right it probably isn’t.

Case study
Mrs M received a WhatsApp message while she was abroad from who she believed to be her daughter on an unknown number. The Whatsapp said that her daughter had changed her mobile number and asked that her mum saved the new number. Her ‘daughter’ then sent her a Whatsapp to say that she was in the process of buying a new MacBook Pro, but her bank had temporarily frozen her out of her account for 48 hours, as her new number hadn’t been recognised by the bank.  She then sent a Whatsapp to say that she needed £749 to be paid immediately, so she could get the new laptop.

The ‘daughter’ went on to say that she couldn’t call her mum as she knew she was abroad. Mrs M replied and asked her to call her father instead, but her ‘daughter’ said she didn’t want him knowing about the purchase. The ‘daughter’ sent follow up WhatsApp messages pressuring Mrs M to make the payment immediately, so she was able to get the MacBook. Mrs M made the payment for £749 and received a WhatsApp thanking her for making the payment, saying that she hoped she was having a nice time away and how she looked forward to hearing about her travels when she returned to the UK. 

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The information contained in our press releases is intended solely for journalists and should not be used by consumers to make financial decisions.

Santander UK is a financial services provider in the UK that offers a wide range of personal and commercial financial products and services. At 31 June 2021, the bank had around 20,900 employees and serves around 14 million active customers, via a nationwide branch network, telephone, mobile and online banking. Santander UK is subject to the full supervision of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) in the UK. Santander UK plc customers’ eligible deposits are protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) in the UK.

Banco Santander (SAN SM, STD US, BNC LN) is a leading retail and commercial bank, founded in 1857 and headquartered in Spain. It has a meaningful presence in 10 core markets in the Europe, North America and South America regions, and is one of the largest banks in the world by market capitalization. Its purpose is to help people and businesses prosper in a simple, personal and fair way. Santander is building a more responsible bank and has made a number of commitments to support this objective, including raising over €120 billion in green financing between 2019 and 2025, as well as financially empowering more than 10 million people over the same period. At the end of the first half of 2021, Banco Santander had €1.1 trillion in total funds, 150 million customers, of which 24.2 million are loyal and 45.3 million are digital, 10,000 branches and 190,000 employees.