A 21-year-old Victorian man has been charged with five counts of obtaining property by deception for fraudulent transactions linked to the increasing popular “Hi Mum” scam.
But what is the “Hi Mum” scam? How does it fit into the legal definition of fraud? And what you can do to protect yourself?
What is the “Hi Mum” scam?
The “Hi Mum” scam typically begins when an older person receives an SMS or email from a person pretending to be a child or grandchild of the recipient asking for urgent financial assistance.
A typical scam message will start with an innocuous message such: “Hi Mum, my phone broke, this is my new number”. Often the scammer will then ask some generic questions such as “how are you?” or “enjoying your weekend?” to establish trust.
Once a person is misled into believe the sender is someone else, the scammer will send a message claiming that they urgently need money. The scenarios vary but include urgent bills that need paying, being at the petrol station and realising you don’t have enough money or even elaborate stories about drug debts and violent men coming to hurt them.
The scammer will either ask for money to be sent to account or may ask for credit card details.
The ACCC estimates that nearly $7.2 million have been lost due to the “Hi Mum” scam, with over 11,000 Australians being affected.
The Offence of Fraud in New South Wales
The ‘Hi Mum’ scam is an example of the crime of fraud in New South Wales, which is offence under section 192E of the Crimes Act 1900.
Fraud occurs when a person dishonestly and by a deception either:
- obtains property belonging to another; or
- obtains a financial advantage; or
- causes a financial disadvantage.
The maximum penalty for fraud is 10 years imprisonment.
A “deception” can occur either by words or by conduct. In the case of the “Hi Mum” scam the impersonation of a family member through text will amount to a deception.
A deception will be “dishonest” if an ordinary person would have found the conduct to be dishonest and the person should have known it was dishonest.
The offence of fraud encompasses both obtaining tangible property (including cash) and more general financial advantages and disadvantages, such as job offers or loans.
Protecting yourself from scams
The ACCC website has a number of tips for people who think they may have been scammed either by the “Hi Mum” tactic or other common scams. This includes contacting your financial institution immediately, as there is a chance they may be able to stop the transaction or perform a charge back.
You can protect yourself from scams by confirming the details of the people who you are contacting.
If your child or grandchild has sent you an SMS you should be able to call them (or a friend) to confirm their identity. Scammers will often pretend that “the call function is broken” on their phone or some other circumstance to avoid talking, this is a very unlikely scenario and a huge red flag for a scam.
Given the high prevalence of scams, it’s up to everyone to be vigilant and to be particularly careful about sending money or sharing your financial details with others.