The worrying rise of “Hi Mum” scams and how to avoid falling victim

Unscrupulous scammers are constantly evolving their tactics, finding new ways to get hold of your data or your money.

In February 2024, Lloyds Banking Group confirmed that impersonation scams increased by 13% last year. On average, scammers left each victim £3,000 out of pocket.

In the past, scammers have purported to be from the police, the government, HMRC, or your doctor’s surgery. A new wave of impersonation scams, though, is even more deplorable.

Keep reading to find out about the rise of so-called “Hi Mum” and “Hi Dad” scams. Plus, what you can do to prevent yourself from falling victim.

“Hi mum” scams exploit the natural and understandable concern you have for your children

According to the Guardian, in the first half of 2023 alone, victims lost £500,000 to “Hi Mum” fraud. These scams are often perpetrated on platforms like WhatsApp or via text message, with the former being most popular among scammers due to the message encryption the app provides.

“Hi Mum” scams are a type of impersonation scam where the criminal pretends to be your son or daughter. Usually, they will claim a financial emergency and request a quick payment to a bank account other than their own.

You might receive a text that reads:

  • “Hi Dad, I’m out and I’ve lost my wallet. Could you pay for a taxi? It’s £50, here’s the driver’s details…”
  • “Hi Mum, sorry to ask but could I borrow money for rent until the weekend? It needs to go directly to my landlord”
  • “Hi Mum, I’ve lost my phone so I’m using a friend’s. I need £1,000 to pay a work invoice by the end of the day. Could you transfer it directly to the client and I’ll pay you back?”

Reading this in the clear light of day, you might think you’d never fall for one of these scams. But remember, a text for taxi money might come late at night, or your “loved one” might appear particularly stressed and worried. Put on the spot, your desire to help might override your usual caution.

Remember too, that scammers are clever. You may receive a preliminary message. Something like:

  • “Hi Mum, my phone’s broken so I got a new one. Please save this number.”

From that point, you’ll believe that you’re talking to your child. You might even respond:

  • “Ok, thanks. Is this Paul or Lucy?”

You’ve now inadvertently given the scammer the names of your children.

Again, seeing this exchange in the middle of an article about scams might lead you to think you’d never fall for it. But caught off guard, in the middle of a busy working day, things might be different.

Scams look to exploit human psychology but there are some simple red flags to look out for

For the scam to work, you need to be put on edge. This means the scammer will make sure the message appears panicked and that the request for money is urgent.

This taps into the work of Nobel Prize-winning psychologist and economist Daniel Kahneman, who splits human ways of thinking into two distinct systems:

  • System 1 is intuitive and emotional and allows us to make quick decisions, like where to sit on a bus
  • System 2, meanwhile, is slower and more considered. It’s what happens when we step back and take a moment to think.

In addition to these systems, we have certain biases, like truth bias. This states that we’re more likely to believe someone is telling the truth than lying. The actions we take are at least partially informed by this bias.

Scammers exploit this, while also trying to keep our brain operating in System 1, acting on impulse without deliberating.

The criminals want you to act fast. If you do, you won’t think to ring your child to check on the veracity of their request, and there’ll be less chance of your loved one getting in touch with a genuine (and contradictory) message.

Whenever you receive an unsolicited approach – whoever the caller or sender purports to be – take a moment to think.

Red flags include:

  • A message from an unknown number – This is always suspicious, so take a step back. Ring your loved one on an “old” number or speak to their sibling to check if they know anything.
  • Payment requests to a third party – You’d never usually make a payment to unknown bank details without checking them first, so don’t allow your emotions to take hold. Take a moment to think before you act.
  • Urgent requests for money – Time pressures (whether for one-time offers or fines that increase if not paid immediately) should also make you suspicious. They’re designed to make you flustered, so try to remain composed.

When you’re in the moment, it can be easy to let parental instincts take over but always remain vigilant. Scammers are clever but there are steps we can all take to avoid falling victim.

Get in touch

If you have any questions about keeping your money safe or any other aspect of your long-term financial plans, speak to us now. Please contact us on info@janesmithfinancial.com or call 01234 713131.

Please note

This article is for general information only and does not constitute advice. The information is aimed at retail clients only.

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