When Victorian mum Nina Merrilees received a text from her daughter complaining of a broken phone, she thought nothing of it.
The mother-of-two regularly spoke to her daughter, who has lived overseas for almost seven years, over WhatsApp, so it was nothing out of the ordinary to receive a text asking for financial help.
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It was only when it was too late that Merrilees realised she had been conned out of more than $11,000.
It’s known as the “Hi Mum” scam, a tactic used by cybercriminals to dupe unsuspecting parents into handing over their savings and has conned Australians out of tens of millions of dollars in recent years.
Now, cybersecurity experts are urging families to implement a simple way to beat scammers as criminals turn to cloned voices to extort money from victims.
For Merrilees, scammers used text messages pretending to be her New Zealand-based daughter.
Merrilees said her daughter had changed numbers several times while living overseas, so the messages “just didn’t seem out of the ordinary”.
“The message flashed up, ‘Hi mum, I’ve broken my phone’. I thought, ‘Oh, that’s not unsuual’,” she told 7NEWS.
“I straight away assumed it was her.
“It seemed to be the sort of language we would use in our text messages. They used emojis, just talked about, ‘I’ve got these bills to pay’ and we’ve done that before.”
Nothing seemed out of the ordinary until it was too late.
Merrilees had sent thousands of dollars in Osko payments to the scammer.
“I just felt absolutely sick when I finally realised it was a scam,” she said.
“Then (my daughter) rang me on her old number and I just felt physically ill.
“The sinking, palpitations in the heart, I just went into a complete panic.
“You just think we worked so hard for this and then these thieves just steal your money and there seems to be no repercussion.”
Nina Merrilees lost $11,000 to a ‘Hi Mum’ scam pretending to be her New Zealand-based daughter. Credit: 7NEWS
The “Hi Mum” scam exploded in popularity across 2022 and 2023, according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
Experts are now warning of a new approach using AI voice impersonation instead of text messages.
“They’ll call a loved one, they’ll pretend to be that person and they’ll say ‘I’m stranded in Thailand’, for example, ‘I’ve lost my wallet’,” Claroty cybersecurity ANZ regional director Leon Poggioli told 7NEWS.
“Be aware of the risk because the AI, you can’t tell now whether it’s genuine or not, the technology is too good.”
The scams could be created with as little as three seconds of audio taken from a social media profile, voicemail or video on a website, NAB manager of advisory awareness Laura Hartley warned.
“While we haven’t had any reports of our customers being impacted by AI voice scams to date, we know they are happening in the UK and US, in particular, and anticipate it’s just a matter of time before these scams head down under,” she said last month.
Poggioli urged social media users to be cautious about posting voice samples, adding that seniors and parents were tipped to be popular targets for audio scammers.
He suggested families use a secret security word if money is requested.
“It’s a way for you to verify who that person is,” he said.
“They just keep reinventing how they do these scams. They’re continually 10 steps ahead of everyone,” Merrilees added.