How to tell if you or someone you know is being scammed, what to do to do about different types of scams, and how to stay up to date with recent scam activity.

There are many different types of scams, and they have become more sophisticated over time.

If someone contacts you unexpectedly – whether over the phone, through the post, by email, on a website, in person or on social media – always consider the possibility that it may be a scam.

Scammers go to great lengths to appear trustworthy but there are things you can do to recognise and take action against scams. If it’s possible you are being scammed, figure out what’s happening and what you can do about it.

Scam stories

Stories to show how different types of scams work. Click through these types of scams for examples of how they work.

Anthony met a woman named Rosa through an online dating website. He and Rosa seemed to have a lot in common, and they got to know more about each other over time. Rosa said she lived in Italy but wanted to visit Anthony in New Zealand some day.

Anthony and Rosa communicated many times a day — over the dating website, through text messages, and occasionally over video chat. After four months, Rosa told Anthony she had booked flights to visit him. They planned a South Island road trip together.

The day before Rosa was due to arrive, she called to say her mother had fallen and needed support during a short hospital stay. Rosa said she wasn’t able to change her flights and wouldn’t be able to visit until she could save up enough money again, which could be a year.

Anthony offered to loan money for new flights, and Rosa accepted — asking for the money as a wire transfer so she could decide which airline to book after her mother’s health improved. Anthony transferred $3,000 to Rosa. After this, he never heard from Rosa again and his money could not be recovered.

Match! Jane met scammer on dating app and lost over $100,000 — Financial Markets Authority(external link)

Pita found a pair of shoes online that he wanted to buy — and for much cheaper than this brand usually sold for. He entered his credit card details and his payment was confirmed.

The shoes didn’t arrive within the promised two-week delivery period. Pita contacted the online store on the listed number, but the number didn’t work. The shoes never turned up and Pita was unable to make contact with anyone from the online shopping website.

He cancelled his credit card in case anyone tried to use it fraudulently, but he never recovered the $149 he paid for the shoes.

Mai posted an online ad to find a flatmate. She was contacted by a polite woman who committed to the advertised rent and conditions. The woman said she was excited to be arriving in New Zealand from overseas in a month.

The woman paid bond in advance but overpaid by $1,000. Mai agreed to return the overpayment by wire transfer. She didn’t realise the overpayment was part of a scam, and she had unwittingly received and forwarded stolen money.

The woman had been running a fake shopping website. A victim of this scam paid online for what they thought was furniture, but their payment was made straight to Mai’s account. The bond plus the overpayment didn’t come from the woman pretending to be a future flatmate, it came from the victim of a scam. When Mai transferred the overpayment, she made it possible for the scammer to access the stolen money overseas as cash.

Mai had to liaise with the bank of the fake website victim to return the portion of money she had accepted as bond. She had to start the flatmate hunt again.

Colin received a call on his mobile phone from an articulate man who said he worked as an investment broker and portfolio manager. The broker offered Colin the chance to invest in a fund with low risk and high returns. The fund’s website looked professional, so Colin agreed to an initial investment of $2,000.

Colin was sent weekly emails with reports of his investment growing significantly. A few weeks later Colin’s broker suggested he invest more — and to act fast to get the best share price. Colin invested another $20,000.

Later that year he decided to withdraw some of the returns his investment was making. Colin sent an email but got no reply. His calls to the number listed on the broker’s website went unanswered. Colin contacted the Financial Markets Authority for advice, and learned the business was not regulated to provide financial services in New Zealand. He was not able to recover his money.

Dad's hero: Kate reports a scam that costs her father $700,000(external link)  — Financial Markets Authority 

How a family chat might have saved one man from losing $50,000 to an investment scam(external link)  — Financial Markets Authority

Sally got a text or email with a link saying she’d had been caught viewing explicit material and was told to pay bitcoin ransom or have it shared far and wide to all contacts.

She knew these types of scams are often an empty threat. She stayed safe by not responding to the scammer, she changed her passwords and deleted the email.

Ana got a call on her landline from a man who said he was helping people in her neighbourhood improve their internet speed. For $24.99, he could quickly double hers. Ana had noticed her internet was slow recently, so she accepted the offer. She followed the caller’s instructions to allow him to access her computer remotely, and agreed to pay an invoice the man would send through.

The invoice never arrived. But the following week, Ana’s credit card details were used to purchase expensive goods. The man had monitored her computer use and gained access to her credit card information. Ana called her bank to cancel her card and learn what could be done.

Josh answered the phone when working in his family’s shoe shop. The caller said she was updating a local business database, and asked Josh for a couple of minutes to confirm the business’s details. Josh confirmed the shop’s street address, number of employees, email address and website.

The following month, the shoe shop was targeted by an IT support scam. A caller claimed to be an online security specialist who noticed a threat to the store’s website. They mentioned the shop’s street and website address. The caller said they had ideal website security products for businesses with 5-10 staff in the very region the store was in. Josh’s father was confused by the person offering to protect the website, so he asked Josh for help.

Josh remembered the business survey call and decided the two must be connected. He hung up from the IT support offer, and was pleased he was able to help his dad avoid the scam. They told other staff not to give out any business details to callers so they wouldn’t be exposed to these scams in the future.

William received an email from what seemed to be his bank. It told him to update his account information or risk losing access to online banking.

William clicked a link in the email and landed on a website that looked like his bank’s. He entered his customer number and password, and an onscreen message thanked him for verifying his details.

William was surprised by this message. His customer number and password usually took him to a screen to answer three questions before getting access to online banking. William called his bank, who warned him it was a scam. He reset his online banking password before the scammer could do anything with his money.

Anny received a call from someone saying they were from a government department saying that she owes $1,500 that needs to pay immediately or face arrest. The person says they require payment in iTunes vouchers $1,500 and that Anny needs to purchase them from her local supermarket immediately, the person calling says they will call back later to complete the payment of the fine.

Anny thought it was strange for a government department to demand payment in iTunes vouchers so she searched their Customer Service number on Google, she called them and asked if she really owed any money. The customer service advisor confirmed she didn’t and the call was a scam. When the scammer phoned back later Anny simply hung up.

Alison received a letter saying she had won an all-expenses-paid holiday to Malaysia. She had not entered the competition, but the letter explained she had been nominated by someone who said she was very deserving.

The letter appeared to be from a membership-based travel group. To accept her prize, Alison was asked to pay a $199 membership fee. After paying it, she received another letter asking for her preferred travel dates and payment of a $50 administration fee.

Alison could not afford this fee, and wondered why she was being asked for more money. She spoke with her daughter, who researched the prize offering online. Alison’s daughter learned it was part of a scam. She helped Alison report the scam and seek advice on what to do next.

Cat answered a knock at the door by a couple in matching polo shirts whose ID badges featured the logo of her electricity company. The couple offered a reduced monthly rate, and asked for a flat fee upfront for the first month to confirm her interest in the deal. Cat paid the fee.

The following month, there was no change in Cat’s electricity bill. When she phoned her supplier, they explained that no one from the company had been selling reduced rates door-to-door. Her electricity company said the couple were scammers, and a number of other customers had lost money too.

Tara started chatting with Paulo after he sent her a friend request on Facebook. Paulo said he was a wealthy businessman living in Italy. They enjoyed sending messages and emails to each other, and having occasional conversations on Skype. Over the course of a year Tara and Paulo developed a romantic relationship, and made plans to eventually meet — Paulo said he would visit Tara.

Paulo told Tara he wanted to do business in New Zealand but couldn’t set up a bank account because of red tape. He asked if Tara could open an account for his New Zealand clients to pay him easily. Tara agreed, and said she could send the money to Paulo by wire transfer once a month.

Six months after setting up the account and sending monthly payments, Tara asked Paulo when he would visit New Zealand. Paulo stopped responding to her emails, and his Skype account was deactivated.

Tara was heartbroken and started to doubt Paulo’s sincerity. On the advice of a family member, she contacted the police. She learned that Paulo was a scammer, and had been using her to collect and transfer the proceeds of his crimes.

Kerry received an email with an invoice attached. The email appeared to be from a builder he used for some repairs on his house. Kerry was busy when the email came in, so he read it quickly and paid the $400 he had been invoiced for.

The next day, Kerry answered an apologetic phone call from his builder. The builder explained that his email account had been hacked as part of a scam. A scammer had accessed the builder’s business contacts, and sent fake invoices to many of his clients — with new account details so payments were made to the scammer instead of the builder.

The builder contacted the police, but Kerry’s money couldn’t be recovered.

Allan’s workmate Dan told him about making money from a cryptocurrency investment. Dan said he paid $699 to join an investment group three months ago, with an average monthly return of $150. Allan had heard about people making money from cryptocurrency. He contacted the manager of Dan’s cryptocurrency portfolio group, and paid to sign up.

After a couple of months, Allan received $56 dollars from the group. The following month he received no return. Allan called the manager, but couldn’t get through. He talked with Dan, who had also not received any returns recently.

Allan researched the group online, and found out he and Dan had been scammed. The group was a Ponzi scheme, where funds were never invested — the returns Allan and Dan received were actually taken from new group members’ $699 joining fee. The rest of the money was kept by the scammers who managed the group.

Neither Allan nor Dan were able to get their money back. They each reported the scam to Netsafe to help prevent other people from being caught out.

Briony fell victim to an email scam that said she had won a round-the-world trip. The scam tricked her out of $5,000 in fake costs like visas, insurance and travel club membership. When she realised what was happening, Briony stopped contact with the scammer.

A week later, a man called, claiming to be an enforcer in the scam unit of the Malaysian police — where the travel scam had come from. Briony was relieved someone could help her get her money back.

When he asked her to pay a $250 administration fee via wire transfer to get back her money, Briony felt uncertain. She phoned Netsafe for advice, and learned about recovery scams. Netsafe confirmed the enforcer was a scammer, and helped Briony better understand what had happened.

Scammers aim to turn money transferred electronically into cash as soon as possible, making it hard for police in New Zealand to trace. The $5,000 Briony had paid to the travel scam could not be recovered.

Nina was curious about herbal weight loss capsules, so when she saw some advertised online for a low price she purchased them.

Two weeks later, a bottle of health tonic Nina didn’t ask for arrived by mail. Nina phoned the health product company to find out why she had received this tonic. A company spokesperson explained that when Nina bought the capsules, she was enrolled in the company’s subscription — this was a part of the terms and conditions of the sale. A subscription meant Nina would need to make a fortnightly purchase for six months.

Because Nina didn’t read the terms and conditions, she wasn’t aware she was agreeing to a subscription. She asked to cancel the subscription, but the spokesperson didn’t agree. She continued to receive new products in the mail, and her credit card was charged fortnightly including handling and administration fees. Nina tried to send the products back, but the address listed on the company’s website wasn’t valid.

The only way Nina could end her connection with the company was to cancel her credit card.

See our online shopping tips to avoid subscription traps.

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