When you discuss online scams with friends and family, it won’t take long to find someone who has been a victim. Organisations such as Netsafe and CERT NZ say kiwis lose millions of dollars each year to cybercriminals, hackers, and scammers.
To help you avoid being one of them, we’ve collected information on the latest common scams and what you can do to protect your cybersecurity. Although we are focusing mainly on scams that are typically delivered via email and through websites and social media platforms, you can also be targeted by phone or text so always stay vigilant.
Common types of scams that target New Zealanders
Email phishing scams Scammers use these to target individuals and businesses, contacting large numbers of people to try to get personal information such as bank account or credit card details, or passwords. Once they have this information, they are able to defraud the victim by impersonating them.
According to NetSafe, phishing scammers will often claim to be from a legitimate organisation, or to have some kind of ‘deal’ to be claimed. For example, a scammer may send out an email telling people they’ve won a lottery, and to claim the winnings they need to provide some details. Other phishing scams use scare tactics, where the scammers pretend to be lawyers or employees of the government and threaten legal action if you don’t give them information or money. During tax season, common phishing scams tell the recipient they are owed a refund, then get them to release sensitive information in order to claim it.
David* knew that getting $700 worth of Macpac camping equipment for $136 sounded too good to be true but the fake website he was conned into using looked so authentic, he was completely “sucked in”. David landed on the site after being targeted by ad on Facebook that was promoting items he had been searching for as being on sale, allegedly at the popular outdoor store. As a Macpac member, David was used to getting good deals from the brand so he ignored his better judgement and bought the items using his credit card. But when he didn’t receive a confirmation email of his purchase and he couldn’t navigate back to the website he’d been on, he realised it was a scam. Worried that he was the victim of a phishing scam and that his card details would be used for other fraudulent transactions, David immediately cancelled his credit card and disputed the charge with his bank. Eventually the charge was reversed and Macpac confirmed it was a known scam. Luckily David was not out of pocket but he’s had to deal with the inconvenience of registering his new card to cover his regular credit card payments and says the experience has put him off shopping online.
*Name has been changed
Tech support scams Netsafe receives thousands of complaints from people who have been contacted, often by phone, by a scammer offering to help with an infected computer. These fake IT support people often claim to be from a reputable organisation such as Microsoft or a big broadband supplier. The scammer then tries to gain remote access to the computer to “fix it’. Find out more on Netsafe
Investment scams New Zealand’s Financial Markets Authority (FMA) says investment scams are becoming increasingly more sophisticated at targeting even the most vigilant person. Because many scams are operated by criminals overseas, once you’ve given them any money it is very hard and very rare to get it back – even from countries with tough anti-fraud laws.
These can include boiler room scams, where teams of scammers cold-call strangers from temporary offices, offering non-existent, worthless or overpriced investments. Firstly they will convince you to make a small payment, then give reasons why you should invest more. They are persistent and convincing, and when you want your money back, they are full of excuses.
Other scammers offer investments in shares that they have no intention of actually buying on your behalf, or in companies that don’t exist or aren’t worth the price you’re paying. They may even offer money for shares you already own, at an inflated price, but say you first need to pay a fee before you sell.
Also watch out for imposter websites, designed to look as much like a legitimate investment offer as possible. They can be hard to spot but signs include the promise of high returns, little clarity on exactly what is being offered and the suggestion the investment is secured or guaranteed with no information on how.
Romance scams The New Zealand Police website says romance scams involve deceiving someone by pretending to have romantic intentions towards them to gain their affection and trust. They are often conducted through dating or social networking websites or apps. Typically the scammer acts as if they have fallen for the victim so that the victim feels guilty refusing the scammer's requests which usually involve money. Find out more on Netsafe
Cold-calling scams While technically not an online scam, cold calling is responsible for a large number of complaints to Netsafe. The callers may be trying to sell you a fake product or service, or pretending to be from a legitimate organisation or a government agency. These scammers are trying to get payment or personal details from you and have various tactics to do this. They will often pressure you into making a quick decision or try to intimidate you by claiming there are issues with an overdue bill. Read more on Netsafe
Work-from-home scams These scammers contact you via email or job websites with an opportunity to make easy money from the comfort of your home with no experience needed. The NZ Police say the work will likely either require you to receive goods to your address for you to further ship overseas or transfer money between NZ and offshore accounts either via internet banking or a money remitter. Roles may include financial controller, mystery shopper, freight forwarder, and in some request that you register a company as a Director on their behalf. It’s likely you are being lured into money laundering.
How to avoid being the victim of a scam
Sorted.org.nz, Netsafe and the FMA offer the following tips to ensure you don’t get scammed.
Stop and think: Is this for real?
Only click on links if you’re 100 per cent certain they are legitimate. Always check the link by hovering over address with your mouse, and the return email address, too.
Remember that banks and other companies will not ask for your passwords or personal details by email, text or phone. If you receive a request like this, delete it or hang up.
Don’t give anyone remote access to your computer or digital device unless they are a trusted contact you have dealt with before
If you receive cold calls with investment offers, hang up. These calls are illegal in New Zealand. Additionally, be cautious with emails; delete suspicious ones without clicking on any links.
Don’t invest with offshore online businesses. Use a licensed or registered financial service provider.
If you’re suspicious of any caller, hang up and call the official number of the organisation they say they represent to check if the call was genuine.
If you’re not sure who you’re talking to, whether online, over the phone or at the door – end the conversation and look them up to confirm that they are who they say they are.
Make your passwords unique and hard to guess. Consider using a password manager.
Never send money to anyone you don’t know or haven’t met in person.
Be suspicious when the love interest you met online wants to use your bank account for receiving and forwarding money.
Avoid giving personal details that could be used to impersonate you.
If you think you are being scammed, stop all contact and don’t send further payments.
We will have more information on what to do if you have been scammed in an upcoming blog, but your first step is to call your bank immediately. They can guide you through the next steps, including whether involving the police is necessary.