How to recognise and avoid scammers’ tactics, and steps you can take to check for scams.
Keep yourself safe from scams
Being more aware of scams is worthwhile. Many New Zealanders are caught in scams each year, resulting in significant financial losses.
There is no real way to tell for certain if an opportunity is legitimate. The things we consider as signs a company or person is trustworthy are the same things scammers imitate.
Learning how to recognise scammers’ tactics is the best way to avoid being scammed.
To reduce your risk of being scammed:
- Be suspicious. Scammers work hard to appear trustworthy, and it’s good to do some research or thinking before you engage with a person or opportunity.
- Don’t trust unexpected contact. Scams most often come through cold contact, eg an unexpected phone call or email. Always take steps to find out more before considering any offers.
- Do your research. Use Google to look into the names of people or companies who approach you.
- Resist demands to act quickly. Anyone presenting a legitimate opportunity will allow you time to consider your response. If you feel under pressure, take some time — or turn it down.
- Keep your computer virus protection up to date. CERT NZ’s website has advice for anyone wanting to improve their personal cyber security.
Getting started with cyber security(external link) — CERT NZ guide
- Never open attachments or click on links in emails if words or images make you feel unsure about the sender. You have nothing to lose by deleting the email.
- Use different passwords for logging in to online services. If some of your information is compromised, you won’t lose it all.
- Reserve the right to be impolite. Sometimes you need to be firm to keep yourself safe from scams. It’s OK to say no outright if you have a bad feeling about something.
It is best to be suspicious of any contact you weren’t expecting. Taking time to consider an offer could be the difference between being caught in a scam and avoiding it.
How to check for scams
Use these tips to help you decide whether to trust an opportunity.
Click on the type of contact or activity that seems most relevant to your situation.
If someone sends you an email
- Check the sender’s email address carefully. If an email claims to be from a bank, company or government agency, check the sender’s email address. A legitimate email from this kind of organisation won’t end in the name of a free email service such as Hotmail, Yahoo or Gmail. Check the text after the @ matches the organisation’s official website, eg an email from Netsafe will end @netsafe.org.nz.
- Don’t click on any links until you verify it’s safe. Scam emails often include links designed to get you to enter personal information on a fraudulent website. Google the name of the organisation to research their official website, email addresses and phone number. If in doubt, use the official phone number to call the organisation the email claims to be from.
- Check for spelling and grammar errors. Some scams are good at imitating the communication style of reputable companies, but many scam emails will include obvious mistakes.
- Use Google to research the person or organisation who has contacted you. Search the email address or company name followed by the word ‘scam’ to see if anyone has reported scam activity.
If someone calls you on the phone
- If the caller claims to be from a bank, company or government agency, take their name and ask if you can call them back. Call the contact phone number listed on a trustworthy source, eg a bank statement, bank card, official website or phone book listing. A scammer will typically try to keep you on the phone, while a legitimate service provider will be happy to receive a call back.
- If someone calls you unexpectedly to sell financial products, hang up. It’s illegal to sell financial products through a cold call. If you are contacted in this way, it’s likely to be a scam.
If someone knocks on your door
- If they offer a product or service, eg discounted electricity or home repairs, have them wait outside while you call their company or employer. Look up the official number online or in the phone book — don’t call a number they give you.
- Ask the person to leave their information and return next week. This will give you time to research and consider the offer with no time pressure.
- If someone is asking for payment upfront, be cautious. This is a common characteristic of a scam. Legitimate businesses don’t do this.
- If someone visits your home uninvited to sell you a financial product, close the door. It’s illegal to sell financial products during a meeting you didn’t ask for.
When you shop online
- Check feedback left by previous customers. If there is no feedback function on the site, consider buying elsewhere. Remember not all seller feedback is genuine.
- Check the website address. If it begins with https, instead of http, this means the website is secure and no one but the seller has access to your payment details. An https website address does not guarantee the seller is trustworthy — just that your credit card details are not able to be viewed by third parties.
- Assess the price against the value of a product or service. If the advertised price seems much lower, consider the possibility of a scam. This can also be a sign of someone selling stolen goods.
See our online shopping advice for more.
Tips for online shopping
Before you invest
- Check with the Financial Markets Authority (FMA) to make sure any offer you receive is legitimate. The FMA publishes a list of firms that have tried to scam people in New Zealand. You can phone the FMA Helpline on 0800 434 567.
Warnings(external link) — FMA
- Make sure the business or individual you’re dealing with is regulated or licensed by the FMA to operate in New Zealand.
Lists and registers(external link) — FMA
- Be extra wary of businesses based overseas and not licensed in New Zealand. It’s often impossible to get your money back if the investment turns out to be a scam.
- Before signing up to any multi-level marketing scheme, question whether it could be a pyramid-selling scam. This means its success is based on the costs of being a member, eg fees or training.
- Get financial advice before you make any investment decisions. Don’t be pressured into making a quick decision.
If someone texts you
- Ignore text messages claiming you have won something. Unless you have recently entered a competition, this kind of message is a scam.
If someone sends you mail
- Ignore mail claiming you have won something or are owed money. Unless you have recently entered a competition, this kind of mail is a scam.
On social media
- Be cautious about clicking on links, posts or messages with no context. If a social media contact recommends something with no explanation, eg a message saying ‘check out this amazing video’ or a link to bargain sunglasses, consider the possibility their account has been hacked. Links sent by scammers could expose you to a computer virus or an attempt to steal your personal information.
- Beware of friend requests from people you are already connected to on social media. This could be a cloned account, where a scammer uses your friend or family member’s photo to set up a fake profile.
Handling online relationships
- Use Google Images to search any photos a person claims are of them. Upload a photo to see whether the same image has been used elsewhere on the internet, including in romance scams or fake social media accounts. This can also show if the photo is actually of someone else.
- Only use reputable online dating sites to look for relationships. Established online dating sites have procedures in place to protect members from scams. Using one of these sites doesn’t mean you can’t be scammed, but you should be safer than responding to relationship invitations via email or social media.
Recognise when your scam immunity is low
It’s true that unexpected contact is the most common delivery method for scams, but you can also be targeted by a scammer who knows something about you. Someone running a scam may have found out which power company or bank you use, or which builder is working on your home.
We are most vulnerable to scams that make sense in the context of our lives. For example:
- If your computer has been working slowly lately, you may be more likely to believe a scammer who says you need new software.
- If you have a utility bill due, you may be more likely to believe a scammer who demands urgent payment of an electricity invoice.
- If your house needs to be painted, you might be more likely to pay upfront for a cheap door-to-door deal by a scammer who doesn’t deliver.
It can feel like a negative approach but it’s important to be suspicious to keep yourself safe when a scam is more difficult to spot.