Scamwatch has urged people to be wary of phone messages from a family member or friend claiming they need help, following a significant rise in text message scams.

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.

In family impersonation scams like “Hi Mum”, the scammer will pose as a family member or friend and claim they have lost or damaged their phone and are making contact from a new number.

After a few messages to establish rapport, the scammer will ask for personal information, such as photos for their social media profile, or money to pay an urgent bill or replace the phone.

The requests continue the ruse of a lost or broken phone and claim the funds are needed because they can’t access their online banking temporarily.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said the scam was designed to play on emotions.

“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,” Ms 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.”

If you receive a text message from a number you don’t recognise claiming to be a friend or family member:

  1. Independently verify the contact by calling the person you suspect is being impersonated on the number already stored in your phone.
  2. If they don’t answer, try a secondary contact method to verify who you are speaking to.
  3. If you still can’t contact your family member, consider asking a personal question that a scammer wouldn’t know the answer to.
  4. Never send money without being sure who you are sending it to.

Ms Rickard said people who gave money to scammers should contact their bank immediately.

“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,” she said.

If you detect a scam, regardless of whether you have lost money, you can report the scams on the Scamwatch website.

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