‘This is my new number’ messenger scams continuing to work on victims

'Hey, my mobile phone is broken. This is my new number.' A message like this should trigger alarm bells immediately. — Photo: Bernd Diekjobst/dpa

STUTTGART: Your smartphone vibrates, showing a message from an unknown number – though you think you know the sender – it's your child. And it's an emergency, they are in trouble and are asking for money. They've lost their phone and need cash fast.

It's a scam – and spreading rapidly. Tens of thousands of cases were registered last year, with total losses running to the tens of millions, according to cybercrime experts.

The true number of people affected is actually likely far higher, as the police say many cases go unreported as people feel ashamed that they fell for the trap.

The thing to remember is that these things can happen if the message arrives at the wrong moment and you're flustered and distracted, meaning you are more likely to fall for the scam, Martina Plackmann, a German crime expert from the police, told dpa in an interview.

It depends a lot on the situation you are in when the message arrives. Of course, if your youngster is sitting right next to you, or you don't have a child, then it is obviously nonsense and most people just laugh.

But the scammers send these messages to countless telephone numbers so if someone receives it at the wrong moment, then it is likely they can swindle them. That might be someone with a child who is travelling or doing a year abroad. If you then receive a message like this saying your kid has mobile phone problems but needs cash and it's an emergency, then as a parent, your reflex is to help.

Often, the sender asks for sums like US$1,500 (RM7,167) or US$3,000 (RM14,335), a manageable amount that the recipient is able to transfer.

Or the message might perhaps catch you at a stressful or emotional moment, which is when you are more vulnerable for a swindle like this, rather than when you feel calm and rational.

Remember, more people fall victim to the scam than you might think. Don't just assume it's a grandchild scam – this one affects people in their early to mid-30s too.

They may be drawn from data sets sold on the darknet. The telephone number lists sold there may have been obtained through data theft.

The fraud usually starts with a text message, after which the conversation is redirected to a messenger, such as WhatsApp, which is why it is called messenger fraud. This usually gives people the impression of a very private, intimate sphere of communication.

Importantly, be aware that this scam exists, as then, if you are aware of it, you might think twice when you get the message rather than immediately transferring money. Instead, you call the child's old, familiar number and ask what's going on – spotting the scam, seeing through it and clearing the whole thing up.

If you know the message is a scam then first, block the number, take a screenshot and report it to the police. Then delete the message. We also advise you never to reply to such a message. Not even for a laugh as these criminals are experienced and might still draw you into the scam.

Anyone who falls victim of this scam should save the entire chat history and report it to the police. Many feel it is shameful and a personal failing and often do not report it as they wish they had not fallen for it and blame themselves for being so naive.

But don't think that way – you are not partly to blame, but have become a victim of fraud. It is only the perpetrators who are to blame. - dpa

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