Australian parents are being targeted by cash-seeking fraudsters impersonating their children as part of an emerging text messaging scam.

At least 25 people in Australia have been swindled by the scam, which is believed to have originated in Europe in January, Victoria Police’s Cybercrime Squad revealed on Friday.

It begins with a WhatsApp or text message reading along the lines of “Hi Mum, I’ve changed provider/lost/broken my phone – I’m temporarily using this number for now”.

The conversation develops before the impersonator requests money for some kind of emergency, including to purchase a new phone or pay an urgent bill, explaining they are locked out of their online banking account.

They will frequently request another sum of money after the initial transfer or being provided with credit card details.

It appears most of the “Hi Mum” scammers are based overseas and don’t know their Australian victims, whose collective losses are estimated to be beyond $2 million.

The scam pulls on the heartstrings of parents, who would react without a second thought if their child needs financial support, Cybercrime Squad Detective Sergeant John Cheyne said.

Parents should ask for verification if they receive a similar message from an unknown number and to come forward if they’ve been swindled, he said.

“Give the number a call and ask them to prove who they say they are, or call the original number you have saved in your contacts for the person. Alternatively, you could ask them to send a voice note to verify who they are,” he said.

“Often, matters of this nature are under reported and that can be for a range of reasons, including fear or embarrassment, and sometimes feeling unsure if an offence has occurred.”