Kiwis keep falling for scams despite alerts

21:21, Feb 08 2013
Martin Cocker
NOT ENOUGH CAUTION: Netsafe boss Martin Cocker says Kiwis need to be more careful online.

Kiwis continue to be taken in by scams, possibly paying out as much as half a billion dollars to inventive crooks in 2012.

Phishing and skimming scams enabled hackers to access victims' bank accounts, while other people were targeted by lotteries, advertising and Trade Me scams.

The Government has estimated scams could cost Kiwis about $450 million a year.

Martin Cocker, executive director of NetSafe, which helps run the government's Scam Watch website, said New Zealanders were "not exercising enough caution".

"The depressing thing we hear ... is from people reporting a scam one day and another person the next day, and the day after, with the same scam."

There were high-volume scams, in which fraudsters targeted many people for small returns, and high-value scams, in which people were fleeced for large amounts, sometimes into the hundreds of thousands.


The most expensive scams often targeted vulnerable romantics. Reported losses from romance and online dating scams in the year to August were $674,000, according to NetSafe. But the losses may have been more, Mr Cocker said.

"The thing about scams is there's this idea that, if you fall for one, you're an idiot. A lot of people just won't report it."

A skimming scam targeting cash machine and eftpos users this year struck indiscriminately, instead of targeting individuals.

In Auckland in March, more than $1 million was scammed from 500 customers using cash machines, according to police. The stolen money was recorded being spent overseas.

Through Easter, at least another 60 customers were skimmed at eftpos machines, with their money then being accessed in Canada. In November, four Canadian men pleaded guilty to being part of the Easter weekend scam.

Auction sites were also hit, with customers on Trade Me being duped by sellers with nothing to sell, and buyers with no money.

In March, Otaki man Stephen Pitcher listed his Subaru on Trade Me for $2500 and was contacted by a potential buyer overseas who was willing to pay more. The buyer offered to put $4000 in a PayPal account that Mr Pitcher could supposedly access after the sale was finalised. He just had to pay the shipping costs first.

He lost $990 to the scam and had to relist his car.

Later in the year, in December, Elmira Rafiee, 25, was charged with 57 dishonesty offences after selling cut-price iPhones and iPads that buyers never received. She used websites Trade Me and Sella to contact her victims and 45 people fell for the scam, with Rafiee pocketing $48,332 before her arrest.

Other scams were longer-lasting, and more creative. Six people, including Anthony John Hendon, of Waikawa, and James Stephen Burns, of Wellington, were arrested in late October for a magazine advertising swindle.

The group was raided by Organised and Financial Crime Agency staff and police in dawn raids, for selling advertising in bogus magazines that either did not exist, or were produced in tiny numbers to show to advertisers who wanted to see their advertisements.



Virus scam: A cold-caller says your computer has a virus and you need to sign up to a contract to fix it. Your computer is then hacked.

Phishing: You receive an email asking you to update your bank account details, so you type in your Pin and password. Your account can then be cleaned out. Phishing is an attempt by scammers posing as reputable organisations to get bank account and credit card numbers, and passwords.

Lottery: You are told you have won a prize - but you first need to send money to cover "fees". The prize is never delivered.

Dating: You get to know someone online. They then need financial help.


A company called Yellow-Directory- NewZealand faxed requests asking "customers" to sign up for two years at $140 a month. It was similar to older scams that did the rounds in 2010.

A man claiming to offer New Zealand citizenship phoned migrants introducing himself as working for the non-existent "Asian Minority Group of Internal Affairs in Wellington". At least one migrant was scammed, paying more than $1000 through Western Union.

Hackers removed local businesses from Google Maps before approaching them to fix the problem and accessing their computer systems.

Hoax phone calls were made with scammers posing as Inland Revenue, offering tax refunds. The scammers offered a refund on the condition an upfront payment was made.


Government estimates suggest Kiwis may lose up to $450 million a year to internet scams.

Reports show that 1 in 10 people when approached will hand over money.

The average amount a person loses to a scam is about $5000.

Contact Sam Boyer
Consumer Affairs reporter
Twitter: @SamJBoyer

The Dominion Post