Diana Clement: Scams are as rife as ever

OPINION:

Scams are on the up and Kiwis keep falling for them. Scams have exploded this year, taking advantage of Kiwis’ fears around Covid-19 and their finances. Here are the top five to watch out for in 2020:

Business email compromise

This is a huge problem in New Zealand right now and you can lose large sums of money. How it works is a scammer worms his or her way onto the server of a company that takes large payments. Common targets are construction, law, or financial services firms. I reported in an article for the Auckland District Law Society about a Wellington-based oncologist who went unconditional on a property on a Friday, and received an email almost immediately asking for immediate payment into an ASB account that weekend. The scammer had been sitting on his financial adviser’s server, saw emails CCed from the lawyer, and sent the demand for money. Fortunately the victim hesitated at the last second.

Foreign exchange scams

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission reported a 20 per cent up-turn in investing scams after the pandemic hit. Our own Financial Markets Authority is issuing new alerts every few days. Since the markets went into turmoil in February/March, thousands of ordinary Kiwis have jumped on the investing bandwagon. The fear of missing out (FOMO) makes them vulnerable to scams. “People are desperate to make some money (during the pandemic), says Bronwyn Groot, security consultant at QRisk. The FX scammers place online adverts saying that well known figures such as Mike Hosking are investing with the fake company. Typically you’ll enter your licence or passport details, and upload bank statements or utility bills to sign up for your account allowing the scammers to steal your identity.

Covid-19 scams

According to government cyber security agency CERT NZ, Covid-19 scams can involve requests to donate to fake World Health Organisation funds, or malware linked to Covid-19 maps. Another common scam this year is callers who say you’ve been exposed to Covid-19 and will need to pay for a test. Then there’s fake job ads. When you apply for these “jobs” you’re asked to pay a fee before your application progresses. Young candidates with no experience of the job market are most likely to fall for these.

Dodgy bank employee scam

In this scam, says Groot, you’ll get a call from someone pretending to be a police officer. They want you to help uncover a fake dodgy bank employee, but you have to make a payment up front.

Buy/sell scams

Facebook Marketplace provides rich pickings for scammers. Anyone can set up a fake Facebook account and offer non-existent goods for sale. You pay them your money, but never see the goods. Groot points to a recent case where Aucklander Tony Bing listed his BMW for sale on Trade Me. A scammer copied the add and listed on Facebook Marketplace claiming to be the seller. According to CERT, reports of buying, selling or donation scams doubled in the second quarter this year from the first. Trade Me isn’t immune to scams but has more protections. If you pay using Ping or Afterpay, you are covered up to $2500.

All the rest

All the same old scams continue to catch Kiwis. That includes the romance scams where you meet the love of your life online, but that person needs money to visit you. There are the Nigerian princes who have an inheritance that they’ll share with you, but you need to pay some money to unlock your share. The calls purporting to be from Spark or Microsoft trick you to log into a website, that gives them access to your computer and if you’re unlucky, online banking.

Be wary. New craftier scams that use “social engineering” (AKA enticing you to make dumb mistakes) appear all the time. Always be wary with your data, passwords and money if you don’t want to be the next victim.

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