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12 Oct 2023

Beware the Scammers

Online Safety - Telephones

Technology has produced some remarkable benefits along with some ‘bugbears’. Among these is the proliferation of phone scammers.

As the name implies these are callers claiming to be from a legitimate business, government department and even charity. They have a tried and true assortment of methods designed to convince their ‘prey’ to urgently give them money for what is seemingly a credible reason.

The CON in convincing

Even though telephones predate the development of the Internet, phone scams are now widely considered to be a component of cybercrime. This classification evolves, in part, from international scamming gangs employing modern technology to make their calls cost-effective and efficient.

The more sophisticated scammers use personal information gathered from social media to make their calls seem more plausible. The rise of the Internet has also made phone scamming an attractive way for fraudsters, often posing as IT support workers, to trick people into granting them remote access to their computers.

New Zealand is not immune

Along with the rest of the world phone scams have become disturbingly widespread in New Zealand. On-line safety organisation Netsafe reported that $33 Million dollars were lost to scams and fraud in New Zealand in 2018. In the first quarter of 2021 New Zealanders lost more than $5.3 million to scammers. Although there has been a decrease in overall scam reports, the amount of money lost has increased by 21.3 per cent.

The average loss in this period was more than $6400 – an increase of 50 per cent.

Not surprisingly, phone calls are more often than not a component of these crimes. It may be that the incidences are under-reported as victims feel embarrassed after they realise they have been scammed.

The consequences of falling victim to a phone scam can range from a minor annoyance to significant financial loss and even psychological harm. If a victim grants remote access to their computer to a phone scammer, malware (malicious software) can be installed. This allows the scammer to steal the victim’s banking credentials to withdraw money and other crimes.

Identity theft is another aspect of phone scamming. This is where fraudsters gather enough personal information to masquerade as their victim and apply for new lines of credit. The damage of identity theft can take years to repair, as the victim’s credit rating can be severely damaged. Having given their hard-earned money away to criminals, people sometimes also develop psychological problems related to both hardship and embarrassment of having been unwittingly part of a crime.

Become a scam buster

Though not exhaustive, the following are the more common characteristics of a phone scam.

  • Unexpected contact from a bank worker or government agent (e.g. a
    Police or immigration officer).
  • Calls originating from a blocked or overseas number.
  • A cold call from an overly friendly or pushy stranger.
  • Any request to share passwords particularly over the phone.
  • Urgent requests for money, credit card details or other financial
  • The use of threats or pressure to act urgently.
  • Request for payments in the form of gift cards or vouchers.
  • Promises that seem too good to be true such as large prizes from lotteries and even cash incentives.

Trust your instincts

If you receive a call that you feel uncomfortable about or displays any of the above characteristics, the best solution is simply to hang up. Government departments never request payment via gift cards or other unorthodox methods. Your bank will never ask you to share your password with them. Most importantly do not give anyone who phones you access to your computer.

If you believe you are the victim of a scam caller, you can report this to Netsafe on 0508 NETSAFE (0508 638 723). Alternatively, you can use the New Zealand Police’s new 105 number for non-emergency situations. If you feel there is an immediate danger or emergency involved call 111.


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Published: October 2019

Reviewed: October 2022

To be reviewed: October 2025