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PSNI scam alert: Rise in fake messages targeting elderly – top tips for protecting your family

Scroll down for the top tips to avoid messaging scams


An example of the scam Credit: PSNI

An example of the scam Credit: PSNI

An example of a messaging scam

An example of a messaging scam


An example of the scam Credit: PSNI

Police are warning people about a rise in scams across Northern Ireland involving text messages, phone calls and Whatsapp messages.

They said the service has received “numerous new reports” from victims right across the country, with the scams particularly targeting older members of the community.

With the scams encouraging the recipient to transfer money to the scammer, the implications can be devastating for the victim and the PSNI are encouraging everyone to talk to particularly older family members about the dangers of unsolicited messages.

The PSNI said one example just last week saw someone lose £6,000 after having received one of the messages, which may involve a person purporting to be a family member and asking for money.

In November last year, the PSNI revealed that there were 11 reports of scams involving a message from a person claiming to be a family member received on just a single day in October.

It follows a general rise in the phenomenon in recent months.

Superintendent Gerard Pollock, Chair of the ScamwiseNI Partnership said: “We are noticing more and more reports in recent months of this type of scam from individuals across Northern Ireland.

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“In each case, a person purporting to be a family member, often a daughter or son, asks for money. Typically, the ‘child’ is short of money or late paying bills, and asks the recipient to transfer money into an account. This is backed by a story that he or she has recently changed their phone or phone number.


An example of a messaging scam

An example of a messaging scam

An example of a messaging scam

“It’s a despicable act, which takes advantage of a person’s willingness to help out loved ones who are perhaps away from home.

“In some of these cases, the victim has been careful enough to check with the relative and therefore realise it’s a scam before departing with any money. Sadly, however, this isn’t always the case. Just last week, one victim lost £6,000 after receiving one of these messages.

"It’s really important that if you have older members of your family, talk with them and warn them about this particular type of scam. This is a really important conversation to have.”

Superintendent Pollock added: “Fraudsters will try anything to trick people. Scams may come in all shapes and sizes, but they have one thing in common – scammers rely upon the good faith and vulnerability of those they target. Hard-earned savings can easily be gone in a flash and, with it, one’s confidence.

“Please don’t get caught out. If you get a message make contact with your son or daughter on their usual number. Don’t get into a text or WhatsApp conversation with the scammers. Spot it. Stop it."

Top tips to avoid messaging scams:

  • The best policy when receiving an unsolicited message, even if it claims to be from a family member or friend, is to stop, not act immediately and talk to someone you trust. Taking time to talk to someone may be the key to realising it is a scam.
  • Messages from scammers claiming to be from a family member or friend will likely show up on a new or unknown number – with the scammer often giving an excuse for why they have a different number. Therefore, find the original contact number for that person saved in your phone and speak to them over the phone –or indeed if possible, speak to the person directly.
  • Try to call the number of the person asking for money. If it is a scammer, they will probably be quickly exposed
  • If you are suspicious, ask the scammer a question only your friend or acquaintance would know the answer to.
  • Watch out for messages which include strange misspellings or grammatical mistakes.
  • Don’t give your personal or financial information in response to a request that you didn’t expect. Legitimate organizations won’t call, email, or text to ask for your personal information, like your Social Security, bank account, or credit card numbers.
  • Delete any unsolicited texts from your phone. Protect your phone by never replying to these messages.

The PSNI has also issued some advice to families, including being particularly cautious with emails, fake websites and suspicious text messages – while also providing the details of some helpful services for reporting fake messages.

  • They advise anyone who receives an email to report it to the Suspicious Email Reporting Services at report@phishing.gov.uk.
  • Anyone who comes across a website they believe is fake should report it here: https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/section/about-this-website/report-scam-website.
  • While suspicious text messages should be reported on the free service at 7726 – where phone providers can investigate the text and take action if found to be fraudulent.

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