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‘He ripped my heart out’: Kiwi mum devastated after scammer poses as distressed daughter

A Melbourne man was arrested and charged on Friday for using the “Hi Mum” text message scam. Photo / NZME

A South Island mother was left “destroyed and heartbroken” after a cybercriminal attempted to use a “Hi Mum” text message scam to swindle money while posing as a distressed daughter she hasn’t seen in three years.

Shelley Lock said that in 2019 her then 11-year-old daughter wasn’t coping after a move to the South Island so she went to live with her dad in Auckland.

“She’s now 15 and I haven’t had much to do with her since she left. She is very angry at me and won’t see me.

“Since June 2022 she hasn’t spoken to me at all. I missed her birthday and Christmas and I cry every single day about it,” Lock said.

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Then on December 28, Lock received a text message saying, “Mum, I’ve lost my phone, urgent, message me on WhatsApp with this number”.

“When I first got this message I thought that she was finally coming back to me and contacting me, even if it was because she needed help,” Lock said.

The scammer, posing as Lock’s daughter, said in one of the messages, “Mum, I’ve lost my phone and I’m at Spark and they won’t let me get another phone til I pay $400 I owe and a new phone makes $1200″.

“He had obviously done his homework because he knew that Spark was a New Zealand phone carrier,” she said.

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Another message from the scammer read, “I am so stressed, I love you mum”.

“My daughter doesn’t cope with anxiety very well, and I have previously received a message from her saying she is too stressed and doesn’t want to talk to me,” Lock said.

As the conversation continued, Lock said alarm bells started ringing. The scammer was avoiding questions such as “what is your name” and “what is the cat’s name”.

“When I asked where my daughter was, the scammer said at the Riccarton mall in Christchurch, so he had obviously tracked my location because I live on the west coast, north of Greymouth,” Lock said.

Lock was heartbroken when she realized she was being scammed and said she cried for several days.

“To hear my daughter say ‘I love you’ or to even contact me after not seeing her for a couple of years was huge and I was absolutely heartbroken when I knew it was a scam.

“This person went to so much trouble to try and get me to fork out money and didn’t think for a second what I have been through. They prey on the weak, vulnerable and elderly.

“He was very cunning, writing all of his messages in lower-case letters and very informally, just like a teenager would do. He was also able to figure out my name after he told me to message him on Whatsapp,” Lock said.

On Friday, the 21-year-old Melbourne man was arrested and charged for using the notorious “Hi Mum” text message scam to swindle victims out of “a substantial amount of money”.

The scam involves cybercriminals text messaging victims claiming to be their child who has lost or damaged their phone – therefore using an unfamiliar number – and requesting urgent money to help them.

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After a six-week investigation, Victoria Police arrested the 21-year-old man from Templestowe, in Melbourne’s northeast, and charged him with five counts of obtaining property by deception.

NetSafe chief online safety officer Sean Lyons said last year that the organization had already received multiple reports of the scam in New Zealand.

The best way to avoid the scam was not to panic, he said.

“It really is about taking a moment to stop, think, and breathe,” Lyons said. “It could be quite an emotional moment, where a child reaches out and says: Mum, Dad, I’m in trouble.”

But that emotion is exactly what the scammer wants, he said.

“Think about what’s being asked of you and how likely, plausible, and genuine this is.”

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The next step is to verify the sender by getting in touch with your child.

“Call them, get in touch with them via some other channel,” Lyons said. “Something that you know is a way of contacting them, and say: ‘Is this you? What’s going on?’”

Lyons said scammers often use emergency tactics to provoke the victim.

“Almost always the fear of loss, or that sense of impending [doom] is a hallmark across so many scams,” he said. “Whether that’s ‘I need money, I’m in trouble’ or it’s ‘this investment is only around for a limited time’, that time pressure is so often a hallmark of scams.

“The more pressure you put somebody under, the less time they have to think rationally and do their due diligence.”

NetSafe and government agencies CERT NZ allow victims to report scams and keep lists of common tactics.

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