Scamwatch said more than 1150 people nationwide had fallen victim to the scam in the first seven months of 2022 – the vast majority of them in June and July.
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.
“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,” 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.”
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,” 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.”