How to spot scams – Impersonation text scam

Louise Baxter-Scott of the National Trading Standards Scams Team and James Walker of data security experts Rightly, reveal how to spot and avoid common digital…

Criminals are increasingly turning to Texts and WhatsApp as their weapon of choice by impersonating family members or friends who are in difficulty.

There has been an increasing number of reports of ‘Friend in need’ scams in recent months.  Scammers send messages that appear to come from a friend or family member asking for personal information, money, or a six-digit PIN number.

The messages are sent from the compromised accounts of your friends, so they look as if they’re coming from someone you know, or from an unknown number claiming to be a friend who has lost their phone or been ‘locked out’ of their account. These kinds of scams are particularly cruel as they prey on our kindness and desire to help friends and family.

Examples we have seen include:

  • A scammer who posed as a friend-in-need saying they were stuck abroad and had to find hundreds of pounds to get home. When the person said they were unable to help they were blocked.
  • A parent who realised that a scammer was posing as their son asking for money via WhatsApp. Luckily, they called their son to check and realised it was a scam.
  • A parent who received a WhatsApp message supposedly from their daughter saying they’d had to change their number. It went on to ask for help paying a bill, but the parent was suspicious of the request and realised it was a scam.

How can I protect myself from these scams?

Take Five before you respond.

Make sure your WhatsApp two-step verification is switched on to protect your account; that you’re happy with your privacy settings, and your six-digit pin is secure. 

Verify that it really is your friend or family member by calling them directly or asking them to share a voice note. Only when you’re 100% sure the request is from someone you know and trust, should you consider it. If it turns out to be untrue, report It to Action Fraud.

My mum has responded to one of these scams and she sent £500.  What can she do about it?

Speak to the bank she banks with. Ask them to consider a refund.  There is a specific code set up for these cases, so the bank should consider all the facts you give them. We would also ask you to report it to Action Fraud.

Tip of the week

  • Check the email address that sent the message. You can do this by clicking on the email address – this will not put you at any risk.  The sending email address should come from an email that includes “” such as
  • If you are using a desktop, you can hover the mouse over any active links (but don’t click) to check they make sense – the main NHS website is
  • If you are not sure, google ‘NHS and COVID test’ to find the right link and follow the link from Google.

Stop others being a cybercrime victim by reporting scams and suspicious emails. Forward the scam email to [email protected].  Use Rightly to stop fraudsters sharing your data exposing you to scams.

If you found How to spot scams – Impersonation text scam helpful, you’ll find more tips for spotting scams and fraud on our Finance channel.

About the authors

Louise Baxter Scott portrait

Louise Baxter-Scott is part of the National Trading Standards Scams Team helping consumers to control and manage their personal data.
Louise was awarded the MBE in 2017 for services to Protecting Vulnerable People from Financial Abuse.

James Walker

James Walker is CEO of Rightly, as well as a consumer rights advocate and entrepreneur. James founded and grew Resolver, a free, independent resolution service with 18 million unique visitors a year. It has solved six billion pounds worth of issues so far and is the largest independent resolution service in Europe. James has advised Government, Regulators and Ombudsmen on consumer rights and how to deliver better customer services.

Tags: Last modified: May 5, 2022

Written by 8:59 am News & Views, Finance