Victoria Police cybercrime squad members are investigating reports of an emerging text messaging scam targeting parents, with scammers pretending to be a child in need of financial help.
Victims have received a WhatsApp or text message from an offender on an unknown number impersonating their children, along the lines of 'Hi mum, I've changed provider/lost/broken my phone - I'm temporarily using this number for now'.
Police said then conversations developed, before the offender deceived the victim and requested money for some kind of emergency.
The emergencies can include payments that need to be made that day, money to purchase a new phone, or money to pay an urgent bill.
The offenders will say they cannot access their own money as they have been locked out of their own online banking account after getting the new phone.
Often the offender will request a photo of a credit card, or a transfer to a bank account that they will purport to be using while they can't access their normal bank account.
Once one transfer has been made, the offender will frequently request another sum of money.
Detectives have identified at least 25 victims believed to be linked to a series of offending, dating back to January this year. It is believed the scam originated in Europe, before making its way to Australia.
Squad Detective Sergeant John Cheyne said it appeared most offenders were located offshore and not known to the victims.
Investigators are warning anyone who receives a message of this kind from a number they don't recognise to be wary and are urging anyone with information to come forward.
"If you receive a request of this nature asking for money, call your friend to verify the authenticity of the request, and report any spam phone numbers. Be wary of any phone numbers not already saved in your contacts and try giving the original number of the person supposedly making contact a call," he said.
"A scam like this really pulls on the heartstrings - a child telling you they've lost or broken their phone and are in need of financial support is understandably a situation where parents would react without a second thought.
"If ever you receive a message from an unknown number asking for money, it's always worth asking for some kind of verification.
"Give the number a call and ask them to prove who they say they are, or call the original number you have saved in your contacts for the person. Alternatively, you could ask them to send a voice note to verify who they are."
Detective Sergeant Cheyne said if someone couldn't prove who they were, or aren't willing to, don't transfer the money.
"If you've been victim to this scam, call your bank immediately and let them know, before reporting the matter via ReportCyber," he said.
"Often, matters of this nature are under reported and that can be for a range of reasons, including fear or embarrassment, and sometimes feeling unsure if an offence has occurred.
"I want to assure the community that Victoria Police is committed to investigating these matters and holding offenders to account.
"We encourage anyone who has been subject to a scam such as this to speak to police."
The detective requested anyone who had been the victim of cybercrime, to speak to police or use online forums such as ReportCyber and the ESafety Commissioner which will assess the report and provide them to police.
Anyone with knowledge of these incidents and those responsible is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or submit a confidential crime report at www.crimestoppers.com.au
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