How Does The "Mum/Dad I Broke My Phone" Scam Work?

a sample of The "Mum/Dad I Broke My Phone" Scam text message

Have you heard about the Hi Mom/Hi Dad I Broke My Phone scam? It's a sneaky trick that's been going around lately, specifically targeting parents. Here's how it works: you get a text from a number you don't recognize, claiming to be your kid. They say they lost or broke their phone and is contacting you using a borrowed borrowed one - which sounds totally believable, right?

Then, the scammer tells you to switch over to a secure messaging app like WhatsApp to chat. Once you respond to the first text, they start asking for money or help with a payment.

For instance, they might ask for cash to buy a new phone, promising to pay you back later. Or they could request a two-factor authentication code sent to your phone, so they can get into your online accounts and swipe sensitive info.

Case Studies

Meta has been strongly advised to take action against the WhatsApp "Mum/Dad I Broke My Phone" scam, as recent data reveals that UK consumers have collectively lost nearly £500,000 to this impersonation fraud in 2023. 

One victim shared her experience with The Guardian, stating, "Last December, I received a message from my daughter, who resides in London. She informed me that she had misplaced her phone and was using a different device." 

Her daughter, aged 26 and self-employed, often requested financial assistance, so it did not seem out of the ordinary when the scammers, posing as her daughter, asked for a payment of £1,600 for an invoice that supposedly needed to be settled by the end of the day. 

"Given that it was work-related and crucial for her professional reputation, I made the payment to a third party," the victim recounted. "I attempted to reach out on the 'new number', but received no response. Subsequently, I was messaged that we would speak later. Initially, I assumed she was preoccupied or in a noisy environment, or perhaps traveling around London. However, after making the payment, a sense of unease washed over me. I contacted my daughter on her actual 'old' number, only to discover that she had not requested any money." 

Regrettably, the victim was unable to secure a refund from her bank and expressed, "Naturally, I felt foolish and humiliated. I was left feeling like a gullible and defenseless elderly woman."

On February 1, 2024, the Daily Mail reported a heartbreaking story of a devoted mother who fell prey to heartless scammers. These scammers posed as her daughter, even going as far as sending love heart emojis to make their deceitful messages more convincing.

Nina Merrilees, a mother residing near the state border with New South Wales, found herself in a distressing situation when she received a text message from what she believed to be her daughter. The message, sent via WhatsApp, stated, "Hi Mum, my phone is broken, this is my new number." Ms. Merrilees, a mother of two, trusted the message as it seemed like something her daughter, who resides in New Zealand, would send. The imposter posing as her daughter then requested urgent payments, claiming the new phone did not have a banking app installed.

Without hesitation, the concerned mother sent a total of $11,600 in three separate transactions using the online payment system Osko. The scammer assured Ms. Merrilees that the money would be promptly repaid the following day. Throughout their text conversation, the scammer maintained the charade by sprinkling love heart and smiley face emojis in their messages.

Despite completing the transactions, Ms. Merrilees felt a sense of unease and immediately reached out to her daughter via email. To her shock, her daughter promptly called her using her original phone number.

Upon seeing the familiar number on her phone, Ms. Merrilees realized she had been scammed out of $11,600. She described feeling physically sick at the realization of the deceitful act.

In 2023, an Australian father shared his unfortunate experience of being scammed out of $16,000 after responding to a distressing plea for help from an individual claiming to be his daughter. Andreas Flenche, a resident of Reynella in Adelaide’s southern region, recounted receiving a text message from someone posing as his daughter, requesting assistance. The message stated, “Hi Dad, I accidentally dropped my mobile phone in the toilet, it is damaged, so I’m using an old one, save this number for the time being.”

The scammer proceeded to fabricate a story about Flenche’s ‘daughter’ needing financial aid to cover bills. Consequently, Flenche fell victim to the scam and lost $16,000 in the process. Reflecting on the incident, he expressed his disappointment, stating, “You think you’re doing the right thing by helping your family, then you find out that it’s not like that at all.”

Screenshots of the "Mum/Dad I Broke My Phone" Scam Text Messages

an example of the "Mum/Dad I Broke My Phone" Scam Text Message

an example of the "Mum/Dad I Broke My Phone" Scam Text Message

an example of the "Mum/Dad I Broke My Phone" Scam Text Message

an example of the "Mum/Dad I Broke My Phone" Scam Text Message

an example of the "Mum/Dad I Broke My Phone" Scam Text Message

an example of the "Mum/Dad I Broke My Phone" Scam Text Message

Although the wording may vary, these fraudulent messages typically follow a specific pattern. There are several indicators that can help you identify a scam text:
  • The sender's cell phone number is unfamiliar.
  • The message describes an urgent situation and requests immediate assistance.
  • The message is not signed with your son or daughter's name.
  • A creative excuse is provided for the unusual cell phone number, such as dropping the phone in a pool.
  • You are asked to respond on a messaging app like WhatsApp.
  • After replying, you are requested to send money.
  • The messages often contain spelling or grammar errors.
A helpful tip to verify the authenticity of the sender is to establish an anti-imposter code word. This could be a specific question or phrase that only your family member would know. For example, you could agree on a word like "Budgerigar." If you suspect the message is legitimate, simply ask the sender, "What's the code word?" You can protect yourself from falling victim to the "Mum/Dad I Broke My Phone" scam by implementing this precautionary measure.

If You’ve Been Targeted, Do The Following:

First things first, reach out to the person they claim to be and ask if they've messaged you from a different number. If they haven't and you haven't spilled any personal info to the scammer, go ahead and block and report them.

If you can't get a hold of your kid, check in with another family member like a sibling or the other parent to confirm if there's really an issue. Don't engage with the scammer directly, as they could pass your info along to other scammers who will flood you with spam.

Make a note of the scammer's number and any other details, like a profile picture. If possible, snap a screenshot - it'll come in handy when you report them. And remember, never ever send money, gift cards, security codes, or let yourself be pressured into anything.

Stay safe out there!
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