WhatsApp scam: More than 100 arrested in Spain for ‘son in trouble’ fraud | #ukscams | #datingscams | #european | #datingscams | #love | #relationships | #scams | #pof | | #dating

  • By Aleks Phillips
  • BBC News

Image source, Guardia Civil

Image caption, The Guardia Civil arrested members of a gang accused of using WhatsApp to scam users into sending them money

More than 100 people have been arrested in Spain accused of stealing thousands of euros from WhatsApp users by claiming to be relatives in distress.

Police said those arrested were part of a criminal group that fraudulently received nearly a million euros in total through the scam.

The arrests took place between February and April, El Pais newspaper reported.

All have been charged with fraud, money laundering and being part of a criminal organisation, the paper said.

The Guardia Civil, one of Spain’s national police forces, said on Tuesday that transfers induced from victims ranged from €800 to €55,000 (£683-£47,000).

At least 238 victims were identified in the province of Alicante alone, El Pais reported. The arrests were made in stages across Alicante, Barcelona, Girona, Madrid, Malaga and Valencia.

The latest arrests come after the Policia Nacional, Spain’s other nationwide force, announced in January it had apprehended 59 members of a criminal gang which had scammed over 460,000 euros (£393,000) from victims using the same “son in trouble” method.

In the simplest form of the scam, fraudsters pretend to be a relative using a new number in an emergency, and ask for the victim to send them money.

They often claim that their phone has been lost or damaged and they have been locked out of their bank account, according to consumer group Which?.

A more complex version involves the scammer tricking a person into giving them the two-factor authentication code for their account. They may pose as a contact, and claim they sent the request for the code to the person’s phone by mistake.

Once they have access to that person’s account, they can contact relatives and friends asking for money.

UK residents have also fallen prey to the scam. In November, Nottinghamshire Police issued a warning after recording a “spike” in reports of criminals attempting to gain control of WhatsApp accounts to target their contacts.

Action Fraud – a UK reporting centre for fraud – said it received 1,235 reports of criminals posing as loved ones in need on WhatsApp between 3 February and 21 June 2022. This is around the same time the scam began to emerge in Spain – amounting to a total financial loss of £1.5m.

It is unknown if the scams in Spain and the UK are linked.

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