Elderly victims of $120,000 phone scam 'tip of the iceberg'
The elderly victims who lost $120,000 in an elaborate telephone scam are the "tip of the iceberg" in New Zealand's ongoing battle with offshore fraudsters.
And as the three victims, who live in the Nelson region, come to grips with losing such significant amounts of money, the smooth-talking scammers will have moved on to new targets.
The scammers tricked the victims into giving personal information, such as bank details and credit card numbers, by claiming to be representatives of telecommunications company, Spark.
"Scammers are very clever at what they do. They do their research," Detective Senior Sergeant Craig Johnston, of Nelson Bays police, said.
"They know what they're talking about and this is how they fool people. They know the right things to say so people think they're genuine."
READ MORE: Elderly lose $120,000 in telephone scam
The scammers then used the information to access the victims' bank accounts and steal a total of $120,000.
Johnston said the money was deposited to banks in Australia and the United Kingdom, but as soon as it was transferred offshore "it was gone".
Police are investigating the fraud, but Johnston said it was difficult to follow the money and trace the offenders.
"We've more or less explained to these people that their money is gone."
He said the victims were "embarrassed and ashamed", but the scammers would have already moved on to their next targets.
"It's a real worry, but unless you close the borders and disconnect the internet it's going to continue happening."
Age Concern Nelson-Tasman manager Sue Tilby said the elderly victims felt "totally violated" by the scam.
"Because older people tend to be trusting it can really knock their confidence and we know that an incident like this can make them really scared that they're being followed or could be continued to be scammed by these people.
"I think that's a concern that it can make them nervous about being by themselves as well."
Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment consumer protection manager Mark Hollingsworth said it was rare for three people in the same region to lose such significant amounts of money to the same scam.
"This amount in this amount of time and this locally would be reasonably unusual."
He said scammers were constantly adapting their approach, but often used the same core framework.
"At the end of the day the objective of these scammers is to directly defraud you so it's absolutely a crime."
They commonly claimed to represent trusted companies, charities, banks and government departments.
Invariably, the scammers would say that there was some sort of problem and attempt to elicit personal information.
"It's always about this particular need to provide your personal information or financial details immediately and over the phone or there's going to be some dire consequences."
Those so-called consequences have ranged from serious threats such as arrest or deportation to things like having power, phone or internet services switched off.
Once money, personal information or financial details were handed over to a scammer, it was unlikely the victim would ever see their money again.
Scammers do get caught, he said, but it was "certainly the exception rather than the norm".
He said there were "many thousands" of scams coming into New Zealand each year.
The cost to victims would be in the millions of dollars, Hollingsworth said, but what was reported was only the "tip of the iceberg".
He said there was no typical profile for a scam victim.
"It's not just elderly people or people who live in a certain area," he said.
Hollingsworth said scammers were often targeting vulnerable people. "I think it's a pretty low blow. It's pretty disgusting."
The best way to stop scammers was by people becoming familiar with the "red flags", Hollingsworth said.
HOW TO SPOT A SCAM
A scammer may:
- contact you unexpectedly
- be over-familiar and over-friendly with you
- offer you a deal that's too good to be true
- ask you to pay up-front for something, eg a tax refund, or claiming a prize or inheritance
- ask for your personal details or bank account or credit card details
- have vague contact details or give a mobile number only or a PO box number
- ask you to make a quick decision
- make grammar or spelling mistakes
- tell you an offer has to be kept secret
For more information visit the Consumer Protection website