Use these questions to help figure out if you have been targeted by a scammer.
Approached by someone you weren’t expecting? If someone contacts you out of the blue – whether online, through the post or in person – always consider the possibility that it may be a scam.
Scammers offer exciting advantages to get you interested. They promise things like easy money, great bargains, inside knowledge or a caring relationship.
Scams eventually lead to a request for money or personal information. Scammers ask you to do things like enter details on a website, answer questions in a survey, or pay upfront for what they have promised.
If you think you’re caught in a scam, click on the situation that seems most like what’s happening for advice on what to do.
Someone is asking me to:
Affinity scams or romance scams rely on your good nature to build a relationship before asking for money or involving you in crime without your knowledge. This scam usually arrives by email, in social media or through online dating. Scammers may use fake photos and claim to be from New Zealand or working overseas. Successful scammers are good at convincing you. They ask questions about what you want in your life. They will be thoughtful, caring and looking for a soul mate. Once the relationship is established, they ask for money or ask you to handle accounts for them.
Non-complicit mule scams ask you to receive and move money or contraband, eg stolen goods. If you’re asked to set up a bank account for someone you met online, there’s a high chance they plan to use you as a money mule. In this scam, you’re asked to receive money from someone who says the funds are coming from a business venture. This is not true. Money mule scams use trusting people to receive the proceeds of other scams, then transfer the money on to the scammer.
If you have given or received money in this kind of scam:
To avoid affinity scams:
Our reducing risk page has tips on checking an online contact’s identity.
See our case studies page to learn more about affinity scams.
Phishing scams, attempts at identity theft, and fake websites are all scams that could ask for credit card or banking details. There is potential risk whenever you enter your credit card number online. Scammers have been known to create online shopping websites that look legitimate. After you pay by credit card, your order is never delivered and you can’t get your money back.
Fake website scams can take time to reveal themselves because an agreed delivery time passes before you get suspicious. Scammers also imitate charities that carry out donation campaigns on the streets to trick people into giving money or credit card details.
If you have given financial details in a scam:
To avoid giving financial details to a scam:
See our advice on reducing your scam risk for more tips.
Money mule scams ask you to receive and move money or contraband, eg stolen goods. Money in these scams is often the proceeds of crime. One common scam is to list job vacancies where potential employees are promised they can work from home and make easy money.
If you have accepted a job like this:
To avoid unknowingly becoming involved in crime as a money mule:
See examples of money mule scams on our case studies page.
Finance and investment frauds come in many forms. A scammer will approach you unexpectedly with an investment product or opportunity that promises great returns. Often their website, references and materials look like the real thing. Investment scammers produce fake financial reports, forged share certificates and glossy initial public offerings to convince people to give significant amounts of money.
It’s illegal to sell financial products through a cold call in New Zealand. If you’re contacted in this way, it’s likely to be a scam.
If you have given money to an investment or finance scam:
To avoid finance and investment scams:
Safe investment tips(external link) - Financial Markets Authority
See an example of an investment scam on our case studies page.
Extortion/blackmail text or email scams claims a victim’s computer has been hacked obtaining intimate images or video recordings and threatened to share with contacts unless a payment is made (often as Bitcoin).
Threats of this sort are often empty but can be scary.
If you have been affected:
A remote access or technical support scam is when someone offers to fix a problem with your computer by connecting to it. This might be via an unexpected phone call or fake online advertisement. They will often claim your computer has a virus or internet issue, and ask you to provide login details or direct you to a website. Then they search your computer for personal information, which could be used to steal money or commit identity fraud. A scammer with access to your computer can also monitor your online activity to discover internet banking passwords or government service logins.
If you have given remote access to your computer:
To avoid remote access scams:
See CERT NZ’s website for more on two factor authentication.
See an example of a technical support scam on our case studies page.
Scams are often connected. If someone asks you to participate in an unexpected survey, they could be trying to gather information they can use to build your trust during a future scam.
See an example of survey information being used in a scam on our case studies page.
Pyramid schemes rely on people paying money into the scheme and getting other people to join and give money too.
They can take many forms and be difficult to spot. But a common factor is that the only way to earn money is to recruit more people to pay into the scheme, not through sales of products or services. The payment might be described as an "investment", "gift" or "koha", and it may be in cash, a bank transfer or crypto currency. Some schemes offer certificates or "personal growth opportunities" in return for making a payment.
Social media can be used as a platform to promote pyramid schemes to prospective recruits. Promotional material may claim "instant commissions", "passive income" and "you get paid while you are sleeping".
Getting more people to join – often friends and family – is the main way people make any money from a pyramid scheme. But most people end up worse off because not enough other people are willing to join.
Pyramid schemes ultimately fail because eventually people are unable to get enough new people to join. Usually only a few people at the top of the pyramid make significant amounts of money. Those who aren't near the top can lose money and damage relationships.
Pyramid schemes are illegal under the Fair Trading Act, which is enforced by the Commerce Commission.
If you, or someone you know is involved in a pyramid scheme:
Pyramid Schemes(external link) — Commerce Commission
Gift cards or iTunes vouchers are a common currency for scammers. Scammers can contact you pretending to be from a government department, law firm, telco or other trusted business, suggesting an urgent payment needs to be made using iTunes or other vouchers in exchange for solving an issue. It can be to cover a tax, fine, legal fees, bills or any other costs. Scammers usually put some pressure on you, saying that you or somebody from your family might face criminal charges, lose immigration visa, or employment status. After the vouchers or cards have been purchased they will ask you for the voucher codes that they later on sell online at discount prices.
To avoid gift card or voucher scams, remember:
Advance fee fraud is when someone asks you to pay a fee in order to get something valuable. Promises made in this kind of scam can include inheritance payments, overseas trips, job offers or cars. But any kind of offer that seems enticing and is made by someone you don’t know, could be the beginning of advance fee fraud. The scammer will take your payment and never deliver what was promised. Sometimes advance fee fraudsters will say a number of payments are needed to release your prize, but the promised prize does not exist.
If you have given money to an advance fee scam:
To avoid advance fee fraud:
Phishing is when you are sent an email or text by someone claiming to be from a bank, other financial institution or government agency. They urge you to click on links and enter personal and financial details into fake websites that look like the real thing. Your details can be used by scammers to spend or steal your money.
Banks will never contact you by email to confirm personal or financial information.
If you have given information in a phishing scam:
To avoid phishing scams:
See a phishing scam example on our case studies page.
An upfront payment scam is similar to advance fee fraud, where you are asked to pay for something in advance. This can include goods or services at bargain prices. Sometimes a scammer will say this deal is available for a very limited time to make you act fast.
If you have given money to an upfront payment scam:
To avoid upfront payment scams:
See an example of an upfront payment scam on our case studies page.
Scammers promote cryptocurrency sale and exchange as a way to catch you in phishing scams, upfront payment scams, and various forms of finance and investment fraud.
Cryptocurrency is also used in a new wave of Ponzi and pyramid schemes. In these scams, it can seem like the value of your currency is growing when it’s not. What looks like a return on investment is actually money from joining fees charged to other people who think they are buying cryptocurrency. Beware of false reassurance from people you know — your friend, family member, neighbour or co-worker may be caught in a scam without realising it.
If you have given money to a cryptocurrency scam:
To avoid scams related to cryptocurrency:
See CERT NZ’s(external link) website to learn about keeping your cryptocurrency safe.
An invoice scam asks you to pay an invoice, which a scammer might claim is overdue. This can be easy to spot if the invoice is unrelated to your life, but scammers can go to great lengths to find out which services you use. Then they create an imitation invoice that looks like a real one, but with different payment details.
If you have paid a fraudulent invoice:
To avoid invoice scams:
See an invoice scam example on our case studies page.
A recovery scam is when a victim of a scam is targeted again — this time by someone claiming they can recover lost funds for a fee. If you have sent money overseas, it’s not uncommon for a fake enforcement agency to offer to get it back if you pay them a percentage. These offers are not genuine.
If you have given money to a recovery scam:
To avoid recovery scams:
See a recovery fee scam example on our case studies page.
There are many different types of advance payment and advance fee scams. Sometimes a scammer will fake an interest in an advert to trick money out of the person who listed it. Common targets for this scam are people who advertise for flatmates or sell something online. The scammer will give a reason why they can’t meet the ad’s exact terms, and will promise to pay more if you can cover a cost for them in the short term. After you pay, the scammer either asks for more or won’t respond to contact.
Scammers responding to advertisements can also attempt to use you as a money mule. They deliberately overpay you for something, then ask you to refund them the overpaid amount. The initial payment was actually made by the victim of another scam, and the money you send back to the scammer are proceeds of this crime.
If you have given money to this kind of scam:
To avoid advance payment scams:
See our case studies page for an example of an advance payment scam.
The first thing to do if you discover you’re being scammed is stop all contact with the scammer.
It’s important to be suspicious because scammers have ways of making their offers seem real.
Beware of the false sense of reassurance that can come from tricks like these:
Scammers can convincingly imitate the logos and communication style of trusted companies. They are known to make fake websites, ID badges, letterheads and other materials to fool people into giving money or information. Just because the opportunity looks legitimate, doesn’t mean it is.
Scams can come from within New Zealand. International scammers also use fake location data to appear as if they are in your city or country. An opportunity isn’t necessarily safe just because someone uses a local telephone number, contact address or a .nz domain name.
Scammers can learn private details through computer hacking or by taking mail from your letterbox. They use this information to build your trust. If someone offering an opportunity knows a lot about you, it doesn’t mean the opportunity is real.
Scammers appeal to people’s emotions and are experienced at building trust to eventually exploit the relationship. When you develop a relationship with someone over time, it can be hurtful to think their interest in you may not be genuine. But if someone you met online eventually asks you to send or receive money, stop and think.
If you have noticed or been caught in a scam, report it.