Online schemers, scams and shams

Online scams currently cost New Zealanders upwards of $400m each year. The internet has allowed scammers from overseas to easily maintain anonymity and operate with impunity. NetSafe, an NGO that promotes safe use of online technologies, says that most people do not report falling victim to a scam. Even so it receives 20 to 30 reports each day.  The amount of money stolen from each scam can be as high as $7m. Once the money has been transferred overseas, it can scarcely ever be retrieved. Scammers employ a wide range of tactics to trick victims into handing over their personal details and money.

Some scams begin over the telephone. The scammer poses as an employee for a telecommunications company. They then work on convincing the victim to hand over bank account information or allow the caller to have remote access to the victim’s computer to install antivirus software. At this point they completely lock the victim out of the computer until the victim agrees to pay the scammer a certain sum of money. You can best avoid falling victim to these scams by requesting the caller’s name and telling them you will call them back. Then dial the organization or company’s official number and ask for them to connect you with the person who just called you. People can also go into their local BNZ branch and pick up a copy of a brochure called Scamsavvy, which provides key advice on how to deal with questionable phone calls and potential scammers. It is also worth noting that phone scammers have been targeting the elderly at increasing rates.

Other scams make victims into accomplices. On an online dating site a “suitor” builds an online rapport with a target, eventually asking the target to allow goods to be shipped to their residence, claiming that doing so is less expensive or more convenient. The suitor then covers the cost of shipping all these goods from the victim to themselves. The catch? All the goods have been purchased with stolen credit cards, and the victim has unknowingly helped facilitate the crime.

A Tiffany earring scam recently ensnared a Christchurch woman when she paid $32 online for a $450 pair of earrings. The ad for the earrings actually came from counterfeiters in the global market. The victim thought the ad was legitimate because she could easily pay online by credit card.

Another online scam cost a Rotorua businesswoman $1,500 when she put a 50% deposit down on an overseas home for a family holiday. After signing and returning a rental agreement and communicating via email with someone claiming to be the property manager, she wired the money to the UK. Somehow, the woman’s correspondence with the property’s real owner had been intercepted by a scammer.

The best advice for avoiding phishing scams such as those listed above includes speaking with property owners by phone rather than by email, being cautious when handing over your address, and never sending money overseas unless you have spoken with someone by phone to confirm that a booking or order is legitimate.

Strong and varied passwords, two-step authentication, software updates, and secure Wi-Fi networks are just a few ways to protect your online identity and finances.

By Laura Faas

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