Grandchild cheat 2.0: Police and consumer advocates are warning of a sharp rise in “Hello Mom” SMS scams. The perpetrators’ strategies are getting more and more treacherous.
The messages always sound similar: “Hi mom! My cell phone is broken. This is my new number. You can delete the old one!” Scammers send them in bulk via SMS or messaging services, mostly WhatsApp.
Almost grandson number 2.0: The perpetrators act like close relatives. If a victim bites, at some point they request a wire transfer – often on the pretext that there are technical issues with their new cell phone and their online banking. Such cases are increasingly known to the police. Who are the perpetrators and how do they get their mobile phone numbers? What cheats are they using? ZDFtoday clarifies the most important questions.
how big is the problem
“It has definitely increased recently,” says Hauke Mormann of the North Rhine-Westphalia consumer centre, considering reports of fraud.
Federal states’ state criminal investigation offices have reported millions in damages for 2022. According to the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), the number of cases increased significantly in 2022 and is still “high” at the moment: “Tens of millions of damage were estimated nationwide in 2022. On average, perpetrators are between 1,000 and 3,000 euros per crime” , writes BKA at the request of ZDFheute. But this is probably just the tip of the iceberg, as many cases of embarrassment often go unreported.
According to police on Facebook, within the jurisdiction of the Viersen police in North Rhine-Westphalia alone, scammers stole more than 20,000 euros in just one week in January. Accordingly, the perpetrators were successful only by fraud in nearly 100 cases in the district of Viersen last year. Booty: Over 250,000 Euros.
Fraud doesn’t just work in Germany: Reports of such cases in Austria increased by 350 percent towards the end of last year, the Austrian Federal Criminal Police Office reported.
How do perpetrators get phone numbers?
Scammers often find cell phone numbers on the Internet – but in very different ways. An important resource: data leaks. “For example, there was a massive data attack on Facebook that caused many mobile numbers to become public. This repository is certainly still in use,” explains Mormann. Another possibility: Perpetrators look for numbers found somewhere on the Internet, for example in advertisements.
What tricks do scammers use?
Especially treacherous: Perpetrators sometimes even write personal information in their messages to increase their credibility – for example, address their victims by name or know their exact place of residence.
“Some scammers also do what’s known as ‘social engineering’ – they collect information about their victims online,” explains Mormann. As a rule, perpetrators will have prepared SMS texts containing, for example, placeholders only for names that need to be built into personal information. This allows multiple messages to be sent, each with a personal touch. If a victim bites off even a small fraction of these messages, they are already valuable to the perpetrators.
Who are the perpetrators?
As a rule, scammers are not stand-alone perpetrators: preliminary findings from investigations conducted by the responsible state police “in principle point to organized perpetrator structures,” the BKA told ZDF today. In addition, the perpetrators are often abroad and the numbers are often untraceable – despite the fact that scammers often use German phone numbers and anonymous prepaid SIM cards are actually banned in Germany. But there are gaps:
Another way perpetrators get their hands on SIM cards: According to Viersen police when asked by ZDF, it’s not uncommon for SIM cards to be bought in large batches, for example, from dubious kiosk operators.
How can you protect yourself?
Healthy distrust is the best protection against this scam. Advice from the police and consumer lawyers: If you receive such a message, you should consult the relevant family member, for example call an old, known mobile number. Without such collateral, no one should ever accept a monetary request.
I’m Ashley Robinson, a professional writer and journalist. I specialize in news writing and have been working for the past five years with News Unrolled. My main focus is on technology-related topics, though I also write about politics, healthcare, and business from time to time.