How not to fall foul of web fraud

Last updated 07:11 23/05/2013

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Marketers dress up online shopping as a breezy dream, but it can quickly turn into a nightmare.

Your heart starts pounding every time it asks your name and it can feel like everyone is after your credit card details.

Sometimes you just need to remind yourself that if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Netsafe's cyber safety seminars in Marlborough this month tried to give people some tips on how to smell a digital rat.

"They will say we will get married and live happily ever after - then ask for another payment," Netsafe operations manager Lee Chisholm told one group.

New Zealanders were swindled out of more than $1,406,400 in online dating scams last year.

Ms Chisholm explains to one group the heartbreak that can come after falling head over heels online. At a meeting in Picton, a few of the older faces twist at the size of the scam tally.

The senior generations are prime targets for dating scammers who play on affections, build up trust and find increasingly inventive ways to ask for money, she says.

The dating website might want more cash to renew a subscription and keep the two in contact or the oh-so-lovely lady wants more money to visit her sick father.

Whatever the reason, Kiwis who think they've found love online can end up paying for it through the teeth.

"Romance scams are the ones that have drawn the most cash out of New Zealand that have been reported to us," Ms Chisholm tells the group.

"It's difficult to know the real size of the problem as a lot of it goes unreported - it can affect anyone, especially the elderly. They can be tricked if they're not very conversant with computers.

"Most come to it later in life and these scams can be quite believable for them."

This year there was the tale of a former Taranaki Regional Council finance manager scammed out of $862,400 by Australian dating agency True Love Corp, starting in 2006.

He fell for a woman called Angie Jovic, who turned out to be True Love director Hollie Veall, and was convinced into spending more than $400,000 on her. He also blew hundreds of thousands of dollars upgrading his dating company membership after she promised she would repay the money and marry him. She never did.

Netsafe received 61 reports last year of online dating and romance fraud. It wasn't the most common category but was certainly the most costly.

The biggest scam category was banking, phishing and fake tax refunds, with a total of 277 reports and $21,600 stolen.

All up, hundreds of New Zealanders were scammed out of a total of $1,838,446.77 online last year.

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Victims often cannot call back a suspicious number because it is just a fake that the real number is being routed through. Email hackers and scammers are too difficult to trace because they reroute their connections.

A woman in the audience shared an experience with email fraud. Her mother received a letter from her niece's email account saying she had been mugged on holiday and needed some quick cash to look after herself.

She called her niece to check and found it was a hoax and her email account had been hacked.

"Though quite often we get people saying their email account has been hacked or their social media account - the truth is quite often the person has just guessed their password because it was too simple or they used the same one for everything," Ms Chisholm said.

The scamming statistics felt cruel and the group listened closely. A middle-aged woman had been nodding her head and admitted a fake PayPal page had tricked her when she tried to make an online purchase.

"It looked identical to an official payment page, so how can you tell?"

Ms Chisholm said there was no easy answer.

People needed to check that the webpage URL, which is its internet address, had the same home address and was connected to the rest of the site.

"Don't trust a site just because it's got .co.nz - anyone in the world can use a New Zealand domain," she says.

"A lot of the payments online are done through Western Union - they can't trace the transfers so be sure who you are sending it to, give them a call or find out about their reputation either from a friend or online if you can."

Online auction house Trade Me was good at protecting people and had strengthened its user-validity checks to help ensure users were who they said they were.

The biggest rise in dodgy dealers was from people creating buy and sell Facebook pages that often left buyers wondering where the seller went.

"GHD [hair straighteners] are one of the biggest scammed items - they cost hundreds in shops and people offer them cheap online. Just be careful who you buy from. You wouldn't give $500 to a stranger on the street to go and buy you a cheap iPhone."

Half the audience raised their hands when she asked how many had been called by people claiming they worked for a computer company that wanted to check their computer and asked for their log-in details.

The group shared a communal knowing grin.

She likened it to the lottery scammers who will email or text to say you have won a fortune in a foreign lottery that you never entered.

"You just need to send them a few hundred dollars to cover the transfer fee then they'll send you the million. Yeah, right."

Just like the bank would never call to ask for your account details, Microsoft was not going to call to ask for your password.

"If you're in doubt about anything online, contact us."

Netsafe's second annual Cyber Security Awareness Week runs from Monday.

For more information go to netsafe.org.nz.


TIPS TO FIGHT TRICKSTERS:

Update all software and applications on your computer and smartphone

Back up your files regularly

Use unique passwords and don't share them

Make sure your wi-fi account is password protected 

- The Marlborough Express

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