The scams you need to watch out for during lockdown

New Zealanders are being warned to be on the lookout for scams as they spend more time online shopping, communicating and connecting with people under lockdown.

Ashley Kai Fong, head of financial crime at the BNZ, said it had yet to see a rise in scams being reported under alert level 4 restrictions but it could just be a matter of time.

“It is fair to say with everyone online doing either shopping or communicating with each other or just keeping busy because of lockdown there is a heightened risk,” Kai Fong said.

“We all need to remain vigilant and get clued up on how to recognise and avoid scams.”

Research by the BNZ has found four out of five Kiwis have been targeted by scams and nearly a quarter have fallen victim to a scam.

Kai Fong said remote access scams were the most common ones being seen at the moment.

“What will tend to happen is somebody will get a call out of the blue – [with the scammer] either reporting something wrong with your modem or they have noticed some irregular transactions on your account – usually about $1800.

“They will then ask the victim to download remote access software.”

Kai Fong said downloading that software on to a computer, cellphone or iPad gave the scammer total access to everything on that device as well as anything you do on that device such as logging into internet banking.

“You have given the scammer access to your banking – you have logged on for them.”

Kai Fong said anyone getting a call with these kinds of requests should question why the caller would need access to your internet banking – especially if they are purporting to call from a telecommunications company.

“And if it is supposedly coming from a financial institution, why that financial institution would need access to your internet banking. We already have those records. We would never ask anyone to download remote access software.”

He said backing away from the call and hanging up was the best policy.

“If it is a banking issue – contact the bank on the number that you know, if it is a telecommunications issue – again hang up, and call your telco on the number you know or can search online.”

Other scams that were common were invoice scams where an email supposedly came from a reputable business telling their customer their bank account number had changed and the customer then ends up making a payment to the scammer.

Kai Fong said that scam could see businesses lose a lot of money as well as the customers.

While it had seen fewer romance scams this year he said there was the potential for people to be lonely during lockdowns and look for companionship online which made the risk of that type of scam increase.

“Our advice is while we are checking on each other to make sure our wellbeing is alright just make sure that everything else is alright that our loved ones haven’t been contacted out of the blue and asked to do some stuff which you go ‘wonder why that is’.”

He said if it was a contact from out of the blue and there was a sense of urgency that could be red flags for a scam.

Kai Fong said scams came from both outside New Zealand and within it.

“It depends on the type of scam. The other issue we are finding is that NZers are falling for scams but they are also assisting in scams as well by being recruited as money mules, sometimes unwittingly because they have fallen for a romance scam or a job employment scam.”

He said people should be wary of job adverts which said all a person needed was a bank account and access to Western Union. They often offered to pay the person a percentage of the money transferred.

Kai Fong said anyone caught knowingly acting as a money mule could be prosecuted for money laundering and fall foul of the Crimes Act.

“There has been a rise in the number of prosecutions in relation to money laundering for these scam type offences.”

He urged anyone affected by a scam to get in touch with their bank immediately and then report it to Police and CertNZ.

“The sooner we can get on to it the better the chance of recovery.”

Sometimes the bank picks it up first and will then contact the customer to check on the transaction and whether it is legitimate.

“But some people are so socially engineered they have lied to us as to the reason for the transactions and we have let them through to find out later they have been tied up in a scam.”

He urged victims of scams not to suffer in silence.

“There is no shame in reporting this because the sooner you report it the sooner someone can assist you with this. It’s about being sympathetic. It affects the whole strata of New Zealand society; be it young, old, employed, unemployed, highly educated people – no demographic is immune.”

Kai Fong said the best protection was not to fall for scams in the first place.

“Try and recognise the signs – that is why we have developed the toolkit to educate NZers what scams look like and recognise and not fall for them. Prevention is a lot better than potentially the cure.”

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