Online dating fraud soars

TOM PULLAR-STRECKER
Last updated 11:11 13/08/2012
Dating
ONLINE FRAUD: The amount of money Kiwis lost to online dating scams has doubled in the past year.

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The amount of money Kiwis lost to online dating scams has doubled in the past year and now makes up almost two-thirds of all reported online fraud losses.

NetSafe said New Zealanders reported losing a total $982,000 from online fraud in 1500 separate incidents in the past year.

Reported losses from romance and online dating scams, often a source of major frauds, almost doubled to more than $674,000. Fraudsters usually befriend vulnerable women online and later claim to urgently need large sums of money for an overseas financial emergency.

NetSafe operates a website, theorb.org.nz, in partnership with the police, the Consumer Affairs Ministry and other government agencies which lets people report frauds by clicking on an "online reporting button".

The charity claimed in June that cyber-crime cost the country "as much as $625 million" in financial losses once the time and expense in sorting issues, such as removing malware, was included.

The estimate was extrapolated from international surveys carried out by Symantec, which sells security software.

NetSafe consultant Chris Hails acknowledged Symantec's figures had been questioned and said there was no single source of reliable figures. But he said the losses reported to its Orb website would be the "tip of the iceberg" because it could be assumed many people suffered in silence.

NetSafe executive director Martin Cocker said online scams and fraud made up a large proportion of the 1500 reported incidents.

"There has been a decline in reports about cold calling technical support companies and a rise in the number of people having their online accounts hacked," he said.

"As well as suffering financial losses, many people are struggling to deal with the emotional turmoil and stress caused by online break-ins to their email and social networking accounts."

In additional to rising losses from dating scams there had also been a marked rise in the number of complaints about online trading, including penny auction sites, Cocker said.

"With more people now shopping online and looking overseas for bargains, many people have fallen victim to fake websites that never deliver the goods they've paid for."

Cocker advised people to use strong, unique passwords for important online accounts and to be suspicious of spam or phishing messages which directed them to malicious or fake websites.

"If you're looking to buy online always be cautious of websites you haven't dealt with before and if the price seems too good to be true take some time to research the company. Google their name and the words 'review' or 'scam' to see if other customers have had problems in the past.

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"Lastly, avoid sending money by wire transfer to people you don't know and if you buy online use a credit card and discuss any problem transactions with your bank."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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