Scam alert: the sick text trick targeting parents

24 June 2014

Moneywise has learnt of a distressing text scam targeting parents. The intended victim receives a text from an unknown number, which is actually a scammer posing as their child. The scammer texts that the child has been injured in a car accident and been forced to use someone else's phone.

The purpose of the scam is to get the recipient to send the fraudster a mobile phone top-up code. One of our readers, who wishes to remain anonymous, recently received the following (poorly-written) message:

5pm: "Mum thers been a accident I'm in the hospital I'm okay but my friend ain't he's in the ICU ward. Mum it was a seriouse car crash. I don't think he's goin to make it he went threw the window screen of the car. Mum my phone is switched off and not comin on. I'm on this number. The doctor said know phones in the ICU ward so text mum cause this phone has only got texes. I need you to do me a favour. All the hospital phone lines are down. I'm in shock that this has happened. Iv got to see the doctor. Iv just got a minor head injurie. Mum, please hurry and text back to this number. I need you to do me a favour. Xx"

She immediately sent a text back to the mobile number - which came up as 07980 800819 - asking what she should do.

She then received a further five texts in quick succession outlining the urgency of the code being sent as quickly as possible as the situation was allegedly becoming more serious by the minute. The texts were clearly designed to panic the recipient into buying a mobile top-up.

When you buy a mobile top-up, you are given an activation code, which is what the fraudsters are targeting. Once they have the code, they can get the cash credited to their own mobile phone account.

Here's what our reader received, in full:

5.08pm: "Mum Iv got to phone freinds  family this phone only has texes. Can you please get to the shop and get a Orange top up voucher and text it threw. I'm going to get seen by  doctor then go outside and phone hes family. Mum Iv got to sort this. Please dnt worrie enyone just yet and please get me enuf credit. I wil explain evrything soon. Mum, please get me enuf, £40 top-up im going to be on the phone for ages."

5.11pm: "Please hurry mum. im just goin to see the doctor. Send it as soon as u get it. I wil phone when I go ouside. Please dnt worrie enyone yet until I no what's goin on with my friend."

At this point, she again texted back to ask why her son needed an Orange top-up when he was a Vodafone customer - to which came the following replies:

5.13pm: "Know, this ain't my phone mum. It's switched off. This is Orange."
5.14pm: "Mum please hurry. The doctors are movin my friend again."
5.20pm: "U need to text it. I'm stil in the ICU ward."

Luckily for our reader, she was with her other son when she received the messages, who suggested she call his brother on his mobile. "I did and found he was ok," she said. "He was at work, not in hospital and was fine, so we soon realised this was just a scam."

She added: "I am still in shock over this and would like other people to be aware of it as it was so convincing. If my other son had not been with me when it came in I would certainly have sent the money and I am sure others would, especially when you think it is a child of yours in hospital.

"This was done over such a short period of time [that] it was obviously meant not to give the receiver much time to think and to induce panic. I do not understand how people can be so cruel to do things like this."

Difficult to combat

Cyber crime expert Simon Freeman from said that because the purpose of the scam is to solicit a relatively small sum of money in the form of a mobile top-up, the fraudsters must be sending text messages to high volumes of people in order to make their efforts worth their while.

He added: "Cyber criminals are becoming far more sophisticated in their approaches and their use of socially engineered communications is proving difficult to combat. This scam is indicative of the kinds of psychological approaches criminals are using to improve their success rate.

"The spelling and grammar is odd. But this too raises a number of issues. Firstly I suspect a lot of it is supposed to be bad to make it look rushed and perhaps a little more txt speak that an adult (reflecting the status of son). When you think about it, text does not work like this. Autocorrect would kick in and in many cases you would expect wrong words completely sent in a hurry, not partial words and the errors seen. I suspect given the speed of texts and replies this was sent from a computer not a phone."

He also warned that the scam could easily become more believable by incorporating some personal details that are freely available online.

"If leakage of our personal data continues at the current pace then such scams may eventually become indistinguishable from reality. For instance, imagine this scam if personal details were used such as real names, real locations, real car details."

As an example, Freeman re-ran the initial scam text message with an example of the typical personal information that can easily be found online:

"Mum its Simon, thers been a accident I'm in the hospital I'm okay but James ain't he's in the ICU ward. Mum it was a seriouse car crash and James' Honda was written off..."

"The more personal the information, the more credible the scam becomes," he explained.

Other slightly amended versions of this scam may request money to be transferred to the fraudster's bank account. In some cases, a victim of such a scam may be able to get help from their bank.

Lloyds Banking Group told Moneywise: "Where customers believe they may have fallen victim to a scam they should contact us as soon as possible so that we can work with them to assess their individual case on its merits."

Moneywise contacted Orange, and a spokesperson said: "We have notified the relevant authorities of this scam. This is an industry-wide issue and we would advise anyone who receives a suspicious text message to notify their network operator's customer services and the police's Action Fraud department."

• Action Fraud can be contacted on 0300 123 2040 and fraud can be reported online at

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