We receive reports every day from people who have been scammed, or who are reporting an online scam they’ve seen.
In 2015, over $13 million dollars in losses were reported to us. The average loss was $12,995, the biggest loss was $2.1 million and the smallest loss was $1. There was $1.3 million lost to romance scams, and $6 million lost to investment scams. These are only the scam losses that were reported to Netsafe. In reality, we know these numbers are much higher.
People think that it’s only the naive who are affected by scams. That’s untrue and it shows in the scam loss numbers. Online scams can be sophisticated and well planned. We receive scam reports from people of all ages and backgrounds.
Unfortunately, due to the nature of these scams it is often very difficult, and at times impossible, to track down the people responsible. The best protection is to be aware of common online scams and to educate others. It’s still important to report scams to Netsafe, or the Police so that we’re able to track scam trends and provide support and education.
Although scams are constantly evolving, there are few common online scams that crop up often. To help protect yourself and others, take a look at our list of common scams, and learn more about each one.
1. Cold calling scams
While at times not technically an online scam, this is still one of the most reported scams we receive. Cold call scams are run by scammers who contact you on your home phone. These scammers may be trying to sell you a fake product or service, or they may be pretending to be from a legitimate organisation or a government agency. These scammers are trying to get payment or personal details from you. These scammers may claim that you have a refund or payment due to you (e.g. tax refunds from IRD), you have an invoice or bill you need to pay, or that there is a problem with your visa or employment (e.g. your visa has expired).
2. PC Tech support scams
We receive thousands of reports from across New Zealand of people being cold called by scammers pretending to offer help people with a slow or infected computer. These scammers use the names of familiar brands such as Microsoft, Spark, Vodafone and Chorus so that people are more likely to let their guard down. These scammers will often attempt to get ‘remote access’ to your device. Remote access is when someone can access a computer or a network from another location.
3. Email phishing scams
Phishing is when someone tries to get personal information (like bank account numbers and passwords), from a large and un-targeted audience, so they can use it to impersonate or defraud people. Phishing scammmers will contact a large number of people in the hope that some of them will fall for the scam. These scams can seem like they’re targeted at you, but in reality the same scam is being sent to hundreds, if not thousands of people at the same time. Phishing scammers will often claim to be from a legitimate organisation, or to have some kind of ‘deal’ to be claimed. For example, a scammer may send out an email telling people they’ve have won a lottery, and to claim the winnings they need to provide some details. Other phishing scams use scare tactics, where the scammers pretend to be lawyers or employees of the government and threaten legal action if you don’t give them information or money.
4. Fake invoice scams
Fake invoice scams happen when someone requests that a business pays fake invoices for a product or service that was not requested, or received. The scammer will send an invoice for goods or services you haven’t requested, or for a fake service such as a trade directory. This could be a printed invoice that looks legitimate, or even an email that looks as it’s come from a legitimate business insisting that you’ve ordered the goods or services.
5. Romance scams
Romance scams occur when a scammer pretends to be in a relationship with someone online in order to scam them out of money. They do this through email, social media, dating websites and other website and apps. Usually these scammers are pretending to be someone they’re not, using photos and identities of people they’ve found online.
6. Facebook trading scams
Facebook helps you keep up with family and friends and share what’s going on. It’s also home to popular local ‘buy and sell’ groups, and Facebook pages for businesses. Although a lot of these pages and sellers are genuine, there are some people who use trading scams to target people on Facebook. We’ve received reports of people paying for goods such a mobile phones or clothing, but not receiving them. When the buyer contacts the person who they made the payment to they’ve found that either the Facebook account of the ‘seller’ has disappeared, they’ve been blocked from the account or their messages are ignored.
7. Receiving unsolicited goods
We often receives reports of people receiving unsolicited goods. These are goods they haven’t ordered, and the company that sent them is demanding payment for the product. The company has acquired personal details about a person (e.g. name, email and mailing address) and has sent a product to them they haven’t requested. There are a variety of ways they may have got these details. For example, when someone has entered them on a website under the impression that the details are needed to create an account, or view prices of products. They’ve then received a product in the post that they haven’t ordered and the company demands payment for the product. These people requesting payments can be intimidating, aggressive and even threaten legal action.
8. Unwanted subscriptions and trials
Netsafe often receives reports of unwanted subscriptions and trials. This happens when people have been signed up to paid subscriptions without their knowledge. In other instances, they’ve have signed up to a free trial, but are unable to cancel their subscription once the payments kick in. Every scenario is different. At times this could be called a scam, and at other times these companies are just not providing information clearly enough up front.
9. Investment scams
Investment scam operators often promise very high returns with little risk to your initial capital. Suspect financial schemes can include initial public offers in high growth companies, options, gold or foreign exchange trading services, betting systems or new specialist investment areas such as carbon credits.
10. Webcam blackmail and sextortion
Webcam blackmail and sextortion has evolved as a new way to blackmail people online. The impact of sextortion can range from mild embarrassment and a sense of humiliation, to extreme emotional harm. This a serious global issue and blackmailers can be located anywhere around the world. These blackmailers can be individuals working alone, but there are also highly organised criminal groups profiting from sextortion.
11. Government grant scams
Government grant scams are simple in nature. Scammers will call people at random claiming to be from the New Zealand government. They’ll say they’re from a department such as the “New Zealand Government Grant Department”. Some scammers claim to be calling on behalf of a government figure, or political party and may give a fake employee ID number. A common claim is that the target has been chosen to receive a grant as a reward e.g. for being good citizens, for having no criminal convictions or for voting for a certain political party. They’ll then ask for personal details in order to process the grant payment, or for an “administration fee”.
Need help or advice? Contact us.
- Email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Call us toll free on 0508 NETSAFE (0508 638 723)
- Online report form at netsafe.org.nz/report
Our helpline is open from 8am – 8pm Monday to Friday and 9am – 5pm on weekends.