A scam becomes fraud when a scammer gets someone’s personal or financial details and uses them for their own gain, or receives money from their target under false pretences. Fraud is a criminal offence.
While some scammers will simply ask their target directly for money, others will be more subtle about what they want. They can trick you into parting with personal or business details that they can use to:
- get access to your finances
- steal your identity
- buy goods or services
- access your business networks or systems.
Common types of scam
Phishing is a type of email scam, where the sender pretends to be a trustworthy organisation — like a bank or government agency — in an attempt to get you to provide them with personal information, like your internet banking login details.
Social media scams are where the scammer pretends to be someone you know and ask you for money. For example, they’ll say that the money is to help them get home as they’re stuck somewhere with no access to funds, or that they need to pay for unexpected medical costs. Social media scams prey on people’s good nature and their desire to help others.
Invoice scams affect both businesses and individuals. Scammers send fake invoices requesting payment for goods or services that you didn't ask for or receive. They often say that the due date for payment has passed, or that your credit rating will be affected if they’re not paid.
PC tech support scams are where scammers call people at home pretending to be from a well-known tech company like Microsoft. They often request remote access to your PC or device claiming they need to repair an issue or install a software update. They do this to try and gain access to your private and financial information.
Money scams are common online. They include 'get rich quick' schemes like the Nigerian prince scam, unexpected prizes, fake auctions and any other number of scams intended to part people with their money — or with personal details that the scammer can use for their own gain.
Romance scams are where a scammer takes advantage of someone looking for a relationship online. Scammers will use dating sites and apps or social media to build a relationship with someone. Once they’ve gained the person’s trust, the scammer will start to ask for money, gifts or personal details that can be used to commit fraud. They often use fake profiles to make it harder to track them down.
There’s a number of ways you can protect yourself against scams and fraud.
- Don’t give out too much personal information online, whether on social media or by email.
- Put privacy settings on your social media accounts and don’t add too many personal details to your profile.
- If a friend asks you for money on social media, call or email them to confirm their request is legitimate — don’t pay without checking first.
- Turn on multifactor authentication for your online accounts.
- Choose unique passwords for your online accounts — don’t use the same password for every account you have. Consider using a password manager like KeePass to manage them.
- Don’t click on web links sent by someone you don’t know, or that seem out of character for someone you do know. If you’re not sure about something, contact the person you think might have sent it to check first.
- Don’t pay invoices for any goods or services that you didn’t ask for or receive. Be wary if a company you often deal with changes their account payment details unexpectedly. If you’re unsure about an invoice, call the business directly to check the details before you pay.
- Always check your bank statements.
- Get a regular credit report to check that no accounts have been opened in your name without your knowledge.
- Try to remember that if something seems to be too good to be true, it probably is.
If you’re affected by a scam or fraud
Here’s what to do if you’ve been targeted by a scam or fraud online.
- If you gave out some personal or financial details:
- contact the service provider for your online accounts — like your bank or your email provider. Let them know what’s happened and ask what they can do to help.
- change the passwords for any online accounts you think might be at risk
- get a free credit check done. This will let you see if any accounts have been opened in your name. There are three main credit check companies in NZ, and you’ll have to contact all of them. You can ask to have your credit record corrected if there’s any suspicious activity on it.