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A parent’s nightmare from the underbelly of the internet

December 1, 2021

What’s a parent’s worst nightmare? It’s hard to think of anything more frightening than finding out that your child is in trouble, even if they’re independent adults. All the worse if you’re thousands of miles away from them.

So that was what faced us when early this morning, at midnight UK time, we had a text message on WhatsApp from our daughter, letting us know that her phone had crashed and that she was using another one for the time being.

Then followed a disturbing text conversation along these lines:

“Mum, I’m embarrassed to ask you this, but I have an old debt that needs to be paid. I need you to send £2,500 to this account immediately.”

We smelt a rat straight away when the language used didn’t appear to be authentic. But what if it was being dictated to her? Was she kidnapped? After some toing and froing, we asked her if she was being threatened. She said no, everything’s OK. It was just that her partner’s phone didn’t support internet banking.

As the conversation continued, she seemed to become more desperate. Eventually she said “OK I’m being threatened, but don’t tell anyone. No cops”

At this point the rat we smelt originally had turned into a giant cockroach. We decided to test her identity. We asked her twice to provide a bit of personal information no scammer would know. She gave no answer, just a couple more texts ratcheting up the pressure. “Please pay”, and “Help”. Eventually, whoever was on the other end seemed to give up. The conversation ended with a sinister threat that would never have come from our kind and gentle daughter.

We reported the exchange to WhatsApp. The conversations then disappeared, but not before we took a screen photo of one of the exchanges.

They nearly got away with it. When a loved one is in trouble, you’re tempted to act without thinking, just as you would if you witnessed someone physically attacking them.

Once we’d satisfied ourselves that there’d been a scammer at work, I did an internet search on “UK WhatsApp extortion scams”. And bingo, on the first page of results came this story from the BBC. It described an approach identical to the one that we’d been subjected to. Blow by blow. Same story about a crashed phone. Same demand for a bank transfer.

The scammer used a UK phone number, which has no doubt now disappeared. The language suggested that they were in the UK, or at least using British idiom. If they’d been American, they would probably addressed the text to Mom. The “tell no one, no cops” routine was straight out of a second-rate TV kidnap drama.

Still, the basic premise was smart enough. No doubt some people have been frightened enough to part with money. Fortunately we weren’t among them. But the experience was disconcerting, to say the least.

So a word to the wise. If one of these bastards trys it on you, keep calm, call the police, ask for corroboration of identity. If they can’t give it to you, tell them to get stuffed. And report them to WhatsApp. They’ll be further down their list of calls by then.

But hopefully they’ll get nicked before they try a new scam.

From → Media, Social, UK

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