“If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.” That old saying certainly applies to glossy holiday prize draw scams that have been hitting New Zealand letterboxes in the thousands over recent months.

The photos show tropical beaches, grand architecture and smiling women. The words speak of luxury, excellent service and huge popularity. The value of prizes proclaimed is huge. The prize draw names are, well … out of this world. “Magical Moon Holiday”, “Ocean Jupiter Vacation” and “Angels Travelling” are among dozens of titles now clearly identified as essentially the same scam.

Since 2013, many New Zealanders have reported receiving the prize draw glossy brochures, usually including a scratch-and-win card, at their homes. The mail is from overseas, Malaysia seeming the main country of origin recently.

Householders often receive a "winning" scratchie

In all cases, the brochures offer big-dollar prize money or a holiday in an exotic location to householders who find themselves with a “winning” scratchie. The proclaimed value of prizes is up to US$250,000. The fake prizes are “complimentary” in celebration of a (bogus) tourism promotion company’s success over 10, 11 or more years. The spiel, in English, often makes little sense. It is, however, accompanied by a real business address and phone numbers.

The scratchie holder is urged to call the company and claim their “winning prize”. On doing so, they are asked to pay a fee in order to complete the process, and also to provide passport details and other information. Individual Kiwis have reportedly done so – and lost significant sums of money as a result.

So prevalent is this form of scam, that the Department of Internal Affairs has built a large collection of the brochures and scratchies: They are displayed on the Department of Internal Affairs website (external link) as “Malaysian Travel Scratchie Scams” for people to more easily recognise such glossy materials for what they really are.

Department of Internal Affairs - Malaysian travel scratchie scams (external link)  

Don't contact the scammers – or respond with money or personal information

The department advises recipients not to contact the scammers, and certainly not to respond with money or personal information. “Any communication that states you have won a prize from a competition you have not entered or that is sent from an unknown organisation should be treated as ‘too good to be true’ and should be reported to an appropriate agency or the Police,” the Department says.

Anyone targeted by holiday prize draw scammers can report their experience through Scamwatch. (In fact, any form of postal or email scam can be reported in the same way.)

Scamwatch to report a scam.

Many Nelson householders have done exactly this after receiving “Magical Moon Holiday” or ”Ocean Jupiter Vacation” brochures through the post in mid-2016. Over the same period, the Police intercepted more than 18,000 such items with co-operation from New Zealand Post. The brochures and scratchies had identical plain white envelopes and printed address labels, and were easily identified and withheld from delivery to households. The Police believe the scammers have resumed but with different, multi-coloured envelopes.

Detection and interception of prize draw scams in New Zealand’s postal system will always be difficult. Government agencies appeal for people not to respond at all when an unknown organisation sends them unsolicited mail offering “prizes” in a draw or lottery which they themselves never took steps to enter.

‘Foolishly I believed them’

Susan* was reportedly scammed out of $18,000 when she agreed to pay money that would “release” a prize supposedly worth US$170,000.

Susan gave her story to the New Zealand Herald in 2013, soon after holiday prize draw scams began showing up.

She had received through the post a brochure indicating that she had won the big-dollar prize. Over the following two weeks, she spoke to two men who claimed to represent the company involved: They convinced her to pay the “release” sum.

“Foolishly I believed them … Foolishly also, I ignored the warning on the Western Union form about not sending money to people one didn’t know personally,” Susan was reported as saying.

Other reports indicate that scammers will give plausible-sounding “advice” over the phone that local taxes and legal, insurance and court fees need to be met before prizes can be “released” to New Zealand recipients. The latter are also urged to “act quickly” if they want to claim the large sums on offer.

* Names have been changed to protect privacy