Thursday 12 December 2013
Every year, ordinary New Zealanders are swindled out of millions of dollars in online scams. These are intelligent, hard-working kiwis, but they’re taken in by increasingly clever and highly manipulative scammers.
Here are some stories of everyday New Zealanders who have unwittingly fallen victim to these scams – and some simple ways to make sure you don’t become a victim too.
How Lucy lost her heart – and her savings
A demanding career meant Lucy had little time to build a social network. She joined an online singles site to find some new friends - and maybe Mr. Right as well.
When she met Carlos from Brazil through the site, a special bond quickly grew between them. Carlos decided to visit her in New Zealand, and even deposited $10,000 in Lucy’s account to use as spending money while here.
But then Carlos’ mother became ill. He asked Lucy to send him back $9,000 of that money, for an urgent operation to save his mother’s life.
Lucy readily agreed – and that was the last she heard from ‘Carlos’. It turned out that the $10,000 had been stolen from another account in New Zealand, so that payment to Lucy’s account was dishonoured and she was $9,000 out of pocket, and her savings had disappeared along with Carlos. Lucy had been used, just like the drug mules she’d read about in the papers – but instead of drugs, she’d ‘muled’ money across borders.
Frank’s dream job turns into a nightmare
All Frank wanted was a job he could fit around looking after his kids. When he saw an ad offering the chance to earn a good income working from home, he quickly applied.
The job involved handling payments on behalf of an overseas company. Frank would receive a commission for each payment.
He was asked to open a new bank account, and his new employer deposited $10,000 into the account. Frank was instructed to withdraw $9,700 in cash and send it to a person overseas as payment for invoices. The remaining $300 was Frank’s commission.
But soon afterwards Frank was contacted by the bank’s fraud team. His ‘employer’ had stolen the money through online phishing scams and Frank was being used as a ‘money mule’ to launder it across borders.
Frank’s dream job was an elaborate scam – and he’d discovered that when something looks too good to be true, it nearly always is.
A holiday booking goes wrong for Moira
Moira listed her family bach on one of the holiday home booking websites. Most bookings were for a day or two only, but they helped pay for the maintenance of the place. So when she received a booking for three weeks, Moira was over the moon. It was from a family in Europe who were visiting relatives nearby, and to secure the booking they deposited the rental amount in full to Moira’s account straight away.
However, a few days later they emailed Moira to say that due to an emergency illness they had to cancel the booking. They asked her to deduct the cancellation fee of 25% and refund the remainder of the money.
Moira was disappointed for the family that they had to cancel their holiday. Eager to help, she quickly wired them their refund.
Unfortunately Moira had fallen victim to a common ‘overpayment’ scam. The money they’d sent her for the booking had been stolen – and Moira had unwittingly acted as a ‘money mule’ to launder it. Not only was she out of pocket for the booking when the payment from the fraudsters was reversed – she’d effectively wired them $7,500 of her own money.
Fortunately, following some simple rules can go a long way towards keeping you safe from these types of scams.
- Be wary with people you don't know or haven't met in person - especially if they ask you to send them money. Also be wary if they ask you to receive money in your bank account, then withdraw some or all of it and send it overseas.
- Be wary about sending money overseas by money transfer. It's often used to launder stolen money.
But online fraudsters are continually devising new ways to trick people out of their money - so here are some other simple rules to help you stay safe online:
- Install anti-virus software and keep it up to date
- Be wary about clicking on links and opening attachments - especially from people you don't know
- Always type your internet banking URL into your browser
- Register for OnlineCode for added protection
For more information, check out the Protect your banking section of our website, Consumer Affairs or NetSafe.