Online scams

Internet scams can affect anyone at any time so being aware of what to look for and knowing what to do is important to protect yourself and your family.

Common types of online scams include

  • Romance scams
  • Cold calling scams
  • Business email compromise
  • Employment or work-at-home scams
  • Investment opportunity scams

These scams leverage the inexpensive and effective use of technology and social networking applications to extend their reach to a wider audience and increase their likelihood of prospective victims. This can be achieved via the following delivery methods of unsolicited email, social networking profile or post, text message, advertised on a related web site, cold call, Instant messaging (e.g. Facebook Messenger, Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, Skype, Google Talk, WhatsApp, WeChat).

Romance scam

Romance scams involve deceiving someone by pretending to have romantic intentions towards them to gain their affection and trust. This scam can be quite effective due to the scammer’s targeting of unsuspecting people on a platform designed for the purpose of introducing each other. These specific trusted platforms can include dating websites, social networking sites, classified sites, and location-based social search mobile apps. The scam typically escalates quickly where the scammer acts as if they have fallen for the victim as this creates a sense of attachment on the victim's part so that the victim feels guilty refusing the scammer's requests which usually involves money.

Other possible circumstances from meeting someone online could also involve you in:

  • Freight forwarding goods to overseas addresses where they were purchased online with stolen funds
  • Money laundering of stolen funds transferred in the scammers deception of life savings, family inheritance, insurance payment, work income, etc.

Cold calling scam

Scammers are becoming increasing sophisticated in their approaches to deceive their victims into believing they are credible and that immediate payment is required to remedy the problem. Methods of payment can vary in the form of a bank transfer, providing credit card details, or vouchers such as iTunes.

Cold calling anyone in the world is reasonably inexpensive due to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calls which delivers voice communications over the Internet. Localised telephone numbers can be sourced to look like the caller is based in NZ or through the use of the technology to spoof (impersonate) the caller ID number.

There are varying types of techniques used by scammers to impersonate an authority to either pressure or entice their victim and commonly misrepresent themselves as the following:

  • Immigration Department
  • Tax Department
  • Technical Support or PC Repair Company
  • Telecommunications Provider
  • Internal Affairs

Look for the signs of cold calling scams and their associated behaviour which may include:

  • Always be alert to blocked or unknown telephone numbers on your caller display before answering the call
  • Beware of any requests made over the phone for your financial details and/or personal details
  • Identify the unreasonable demand for you to make immediate payment whilst remaining on the call
  • Do not comply with any request for someone on the phone to have you install software to give them full access to your computer

Business email compromise

Business Email Compromise (BEC) is a sophisticated scam targeting businesses with the end goal of redirecting bank transfers to an account that the scammer has control over. BEC scams often begin with the attacker compromising a business executive’s email account to gain access to messages and financial information.

Alternatively the attacker may register a similar looking domain name as a business to impersonate them without compromising an email account to order goods with payment terms being invoiced in arrears.

Defending against this scam may include the following:

  • Scrutinize email addresses and not the display name for any subtle changes
  • Keep an eye out for the reply email address being different to the senders
  • Verify any change in banking details other than by email
  • Be cautious of any unexpected product quote or service inquiry that requires an attachment to be opened
  • Enable two factor authentication for webmail and if possible account security alerts
  • Educate all staff especially those in the organisation who have ability of making payments

Work-at-home scam

These work-at-home opportunities usually involve an offer to make easy money from the comfort of your home with no experience needed. They usually exclude a face-to-face or video interview with no background or reference checks completed. Work will likely either require you to receive goods to your address for you to further ship overseas or transfer money between NZ and offshore accounts either via internet banking or a money remitter.
These types of scams usually involve targeted advertising by posting on job search or classified websites and print media or in response to your request for work. Such roles may include financial controller, mystery shopper, freight forwarder, and in some circumstances request that you register a company as a Director on their behalf.

Consider the implications and your involvement when either receiving or transferring funds to and from unknown bank accounts especially where your compensation is deductible from these amounts rather than a regular income as you are likely to be involved in money laundering.

Signs of the scam may include:

  • Pay is too good to be true
  • Very little is known about the company and appears to have no physical location
  • The employer will seemingly hire anyone with no experience or qualifications necessary
  • A payment fee is required prior to starting employment

Investment opportunity scam

Investment scams often promise very high returns with little risk to your initial investment and these financial schemes can include initial public offering and attractive returns in options or shares in what appears to be lucrative knowledge in high growth companies.
Investment opportunities can take the form of well performing company shares/futures/binary options or an Initial Coin Offering (ICO) for an emerging cryptocurrency.

Protect yourself and spot the signs

  • You’re contacted out of the blue with the investment offer either by email or phone call
  • Never take up offers of investments from on the spot from cold calls. To make safe investments take a look at the Financial Market Authority website for news and alerts on businesses at
  • You discover or are directed to a professional looking website that makes them look authentic however it is difficult to find out their physical address and independently verify if they are registered as a financial service provider or broker
  • You’re pressured into making rushed decisions due to the incredible potential for making profit being time critical therefore giving you no time to consider the investment offer

More information

Spam | Department of Internal Affairs
Scam Alerts | Consumer Protection
Trust & Safety: Trade Me's blog on trust & safety issues