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Is this a scam?

Figure out if you are being scammed and what to do about different types of scams.

On this page

Figure out if you are being scammed

Use these questions to help figure out if you have been targeted by a scammer.

This page provides more on how to stay safe from scams generally so you know what to look out for.

The COVID-19.govt.nz website has some helpful links to other government resources to help you recognise and stay safe from scams.

Has someone contacted you unexpectedly?

Most scams start with an approach through contact you weren’t expecting. If someone contacts you out of the blue – whether over the phone, through the post, by email, on a website, in person or on social media – always consider the possibility that it may be a scam.

Have they promised you something?

Scammers offer exciting advantages to get you interested. They promise things like easy money, great bargains, inside knowledge or a caring relationship.

Have they asked you to do something?

Scams eventually lead to a request for money or personal information. Scammers ask you to do things like enter details on a website, answer questions in a survey, or pay upfront for what they have promised.

If you think you’re caught in a scam, click on the situation that seems most like what’s happening for advice on what to do.

Someone is asking me to:

Gift cards or iTunes vouchers are a common currency for scammers. Scammers can contact you pretending to be from a government department, law firm, telco or other trusted business, suggesting an urgent payment needs to be made using iTunes or other vouchers in exchange for solving an issue. It can be to cover a tax, fine, legal fees, bills or any other costs. Scammers usually put some pressure on you, saying that you or somebody from your family might face criminal charges, lose immigration visa, or employment status. After the vouchers or cards have been purchased they will ask you for the voucher codes that they later on sell online at discount prices.

To avoid gift card or voucher scams, remember:

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  • Government departments or private business never demand payment in iTunes vouchers, supermarket vouchers, or other kinds of gift cards.
  • If you receive a call from a business or government department or business informing you that something will happen unless you make an immediate payment you can hang up and search their Customer Service number on Google or in the phone book – they will have a record of what you may or may not owe them.

Advance fee fraud is when someone asks you to pay a fee in order to get something valuable. Promises made in this kind of scam can include inheritance payments, overseas trips, job offers or cars. But any kind of offer that seems enticing and is made by someone you don’t know, could be the beginning of advance fee fraud. The scammer will take your payment and never deliver what was promised. Sometimes advance fee fraudsters will say a number of payments are needed to release your prize, but the promised prize does not exist.

If you have given money to an advance fee scam:

  • stop all contact with the scammer
  • contact your bank or the institution you sent money through
  • report the scam to Netsafe, who can advise you on what to do next.

To avoid advance fee fraud:

  • do not pay money to someone you don’t know well — or haven’t met in person.
  • See an example of advance fee fraud on our case studies page.

A remote access or technical support scam is when someone offers to fix a problem with your computer by connecting to it. This might be via an unexpected phone call or fake online advertisement. They will often claim your computer has a virus or internet issue, and ask you to provide login details or direct you to a website. Then they search your computer for personal information, which could be used to steal money or commit identity fraud. A scammer with access to your computer can also monitor your online activity to discover internet banking passwords or government service logins.

If you have given remote access to your computer:

  • shut down your computer
  • phone your bank
  • do not use your computer until it has been cleaned by a technician
  • report the scam to Netsafe, who can advise you on what to do next.

To avoid remote access scams:

  • do not engage with anyone who offers to fix your computer or install software
  • contact a reputable listed technician if you need help with your computer
  • use different passwords for different online accounts and consider two factor authentication.

See CERT NZ’s website for more on two factor authentication.

See an example of a technical support scam on our case studies page.

Phishing is when you are sent an email or text by someone claiming to be from a bank, other financial institution or government agency. They urge you to click on links and enter personal and financial details into fake websites that look like the real thing. Your details can be used by scammers to spend or steal your money.

Banks will never contact you by email to confirm personal or financial information.

If you have given information in a phishing scam:

  • alert your bank
  • use the bank or agency’s official website to change any passwords entered on the fake site — find the official site using a Google search or by checking your bank card or statement
  • report the scam to Netsafe, who can advise you on what to do next.

To avoid phishing scams:

  • don’t click on links in emails claiming to be from a bank, other financial institution or government agency
  • if you need to contact your bank or a government agency, use the official phone number or website.

See a phishing scam example on our case studies page.

An upfront payment scam is similar to advance fee fraud, where you are asked to pay for something in advance. This can include goods or services at bargain prices. Sometimes a scammer will say this deal is available for a very limited time to make you act fast.

If you have given money to an upfront payment scam:

  • stop all contact with the scammer
  • report the scam to Netsafe, who can advise you on what to do next.

To avoid upfront payment scams:

  • be cautious whenever goods, services or experiences are advertised at a price that seems much less than their value
  • check for seller feedback if shopping online.

See an example of an upfront payment scam on our case studies page.

Finance and investment frauds come in many forms. A scammer will approach you unexpectedly with an investment product or opportunity that promises great returns. Often their website, references and materials look like the real thing. Investment scammers produce fake financial reports, forged share certificates and glossy initial public offerings to convince people to give significant amounts of money.

It’s illegal to sell financial products through a cold call in New Zealand. If you’re contacted in this way, it’s likely to be a scam.

If you have given money to an investment or finance scam:

  • stop all contact with the scammer
  • do not make any more payments
  • report the scam to Netsafe, who can advise you on what to do next.

To avoid finance and investment scams:

  • invest in businesses regulated in New Zealand
  • get financial advice before making any investments, and don’t be pressured into a quick decision
  • follow advice from the Financial Markets Authority on ways to protect yourself.

See an example of an investment scam on our case studies page.

Buying cryptocurrencies or using crypto-exchanges can put you at higher risk of being the target of a scam or fraud.

Scammers promote cryptocurrency sale and exchange as a way to catch you in phishing scams, upfront payment scams, and various forms of finance and investment fraud.

Cryptocurrency is also used in a new wave of Ponzi and pyramid schemes. In these scams, it can seem like the value of your currency is growing when it’s not. What looks like a return on investment is actually money from joining fees charged to other people who think they are buying cryptocurrency. Beware of false reassurance from people you know — your friend, family member, neighbour or co-worker may be caught in a scam without realising it.

If you have given money to a cryptocurrency scam:

  • stop all contact with the scammer
  • do not make any more payments
  • report the scam to Netsafe, who can advise you on what to do next.

To avoid scams related to cryptocurrency:

  • take time to research any investment opportunities you’re considering
  • be sceptical if someone offers — or says they get — high returns for little risk
  • follow advice from the Financial Markets Authority.

See CERT NZ’s (external link) website to learn about keeping your cryptocurrency safe.

An invoice scam asks you to pay an invoice, which a scammer might claim is overdue. This can be easy to spot if the invoice is unrelated to your life, but scammers can go to great lengths to find out which services you use. Then they create an imitation invoice that looks like a real one, but with different payment details.

If you have paid a fraudulent invoice:

  • contact the police
  • report the scam to Netsafe, who can advise you on what to do next.

To avoid invoice scams:

  • communicate with service providers and tradespeople in person where possible
  • be wary of any changes to agreed payment processes
  • phone the service provider on a number you have used before the invoice arrived to check any changes to their bank account or preferred payment method.

See an invoice scam example on our case studies page.

Scams are often connected. If someone asks you to participate in an unexpected survey, they could be trying to gather information they can use to build your trust during a future scam.

See an example of survey information being used in a scam on our case studies page.

Phishing scams, attempts at identity theft, and fake websites are all scams that could ask for credit card or banking details. There is potential risk whenever you enter your credit card number online. Scammers have been known to create online shopping websites that look legitimate. After you pay by credit card, your order is never delivered and you can’t get your money back.

Fake website scams can take time to reveal themselves because an agreed delivery time passes before you get suspicious. Scammers also imitate charities that carry out donation campaigns on the streets to trick people into giving money or credit card details.

If you have given financial details in a scam:

  • cancel your credit card
  • change your online banking password.

To avoid giving financial details to a scam:

  • only enter your credit card details on a website if you are certain it’s legitimate.

See our advice on reducing your scam risk for more tips.

A recovery scam is when a victim of a scam is targeted again — this time by someone claiming they can recover lost funds for a fee. If you have sent money overseas, it’s not uncommon for a fake enforcement agency to offer to get it back if you pay them a percentage. These offers are not genuine.

If you have given money to a recovery scam:

  • stop all contact with the scammer
  • contact the police.

To avoid recovery scams:

  • ignore anyone who claims they have special knowledge of how to recover funds lost in a scam.

See a recovery fee scam example on our case studies page.

Affinity scams or romance scams rely on your good nature to build a relationship before asking for money or involving you in crime without your knowledge. This scam usually arrives by email, in social media or through online dating. Scammers may use fake photos and claim to be from New Zealand or working overseas. Successful scammers are good at convincing you. They ask questions about what you want in your life. They will be thoughtful, caring and looking for a soul mate. Once the relationship is established, they ask for money or ask you to handle accounts for them.

Non-complicit mule scams ask you to receive and move money or contraband, eg stolen goods. If you’re asked to set up a bank account for someone you met online, there’s a high chance they plan to use you as a money mule. In this scam, you’re asked to receive money from someone who says the funds are coming from a business venture. This is not true. Money mule scams use trusting people to receive the proceeds of other scams, then transfer the money on to the scammer.

If you have given or received money in this kind of scam:

  • contact your bank or the institution you sent or received money through
  • contact the police
  • report the scam to Netsafe.

To avoid affinity scams:

  • confirm the identity of the person building a relationship with you — asking for a photo is not enough because these can be fake.

Our reducing risk page has tips on checking an online contact’s identity.

See our case studies page to learn more about affinity scams.

There are many different types of advance payment and advance fee scams. Sometimes a scammer will fake an interest in an advert to trick money out of the person who listed it. Common targets for this scam are people who advertise for flatmates or sell something online. The scammer will give a reason why they can’t meet the ad’s exact terms, and will promise to pay more if you can cover a cost for them in the short term. After you pay, the scammer either asks for more or won’t respond to contact.

Scammers responding to advertisements can also attempt to use you as a money mule. They deliberately overpay you for something, then ask you to refund them the overpaid amount. The initial payment was actually made by the victim of another scam, and the money you send back to the scammer are proceeds of this crime.

If you have given money to this kind of scam:

  • stop all contact with the scammer
  • contact your bank or the institution you sent money through
  • report the scam to Netsafe, who can advise you on what to do next.

To avoid advance payment scams:

  • always get references or check buyer feedback when you consider people who reply to ad listings.

See our case studies page for an example of an advance payment scam.

Money mule scams ask you to receive and move money or contraband, eg stolen goods. Money in these scams is often the proceeds of crime. One common scam is to list job vacancies where potential employees are promised they can work from home and make easy money.

If you have accepted a job like this:

  • stop all contact with the scammer
  • contact the police.

To avoid unknowingly becoming involved in crime as a money mule:

  • don’t accept work that involves receiving and transferring money
  • carefully research any employers offering this kind of work.

See examples of money mule scams on our case studies page.

If you have given money or personal information to a scammer:

  • stop all contact with them immediately
  • contact your bank or the institution you sent money through
  • report the scam to Netsafe and follow their advice.

The first thing to do if you discover you’re being scammed is stop all contact with the scammer.

Take care

It’s important to be suspicious because scammers have ways of making their offers seem real.

Beware of the false sense of reassurance that can come from tricks like these:

Scammers can convincingly imitate the logos and communication style of trusted companies. They are known to make fake websites, ID badges, letterheads and other materials to fool people into giving money or information. Just because the opportunity looks legitimate, doesn’t mean it is.

Scams can come from within New Zealand. International scammers also use fake location data to appear as if they are in your city or country. An opportunity isn’t necessarily safe just because someone uses a local telephone number, contact address or a .nz domain name.

Scammers can learn private details through computer hacking or by taking mail from your letterbox. They use this information to build your trust. If someone offering an opportunity knows a lot about you, it doesn’t mean the opportunity is real.

Scammers appeal to people’s emotions and are experienced at building trust to eventually exploit the relationship. When you develop a relationship with someone over time, it can be hurtful to think their interest in you may not be genuine. But if someone you met online eventually asks you to send or receive money, stop and think.

If you have noticed or been caught in a scam, report it to Netsafe.

Test your knowledge!

If you receive an unsolicited text from your bank or service provider asking you to provide personal information, should you give it to them?

No! If it’s unexpected it may be a scam. Stop and think, is this for real?

SCAM WATCH

Classified scams trick online shoppers on classified websites into thinking they are dealing with a legitimate contact but it is actually a scammer.

How this scam works

For buyers

Scammers will pose as genuine sellers and post fake ads on classifieds websites, in print classifieds, and may approach you through email or on social media platforms.

The ad can be for anything, such as rental properties or accommodation, pets, used cars, boats, bikes, caravans and horses. It may even include pictures and other details – often copied from a genuine seller’s ad. In order to lure a number of victims in a hurry, the scammer advertises the item at a low price, often much lower than comparable items advertised on the same site.

When you show interest in the item, the scammer may claim that they are travelling or have moved overseas and that an agent will deliver the goods following receipt of payment. Following payment you may receive a fake email receipt claiming to be from the website’s secure payment provider, however, you won’t receive the goods and will not be able to contact the seller.

In the case of rental properties, the scammer will pose as a property owner or landlord and post a fake copy of a genuine rental property ad. When you show interest, the scammer will make excuses as to why you cannot inspect the property, often claiming that they are currently overseas. If you are still interested, they will ask for bond, rent payments or deposits in advance. You will never receive the keys to the property and the scammer will disappear with your money.

For sellers

If you are advertising your items for sale through print and online classifieds, beware of scammers posing as genuine buyers. Scammers may make up stories such as needing your help to pay an agent or third party for upfront costs like transportation or insurance. They may promise you reimbursement for these costs.

Alternatively the scammer may send a cheque for more money than the agreed sale price. The scammer will invent an excuse for the overpayment, such as to cover the fees of an agent or extra shipping costs, or that it was simply human error. The scammer will then ask you to refund the excess amount – usually through an online banking transfer, pre-loaded money card, or a wire transfer – before you discover that their cheque has bounced. See Overpayment scams for more information.

In both cases, you will lose the money you gave the scammer, and if you have already sent the item you were selling, you will lose it as well.

Warning signs

For buyers

  • The classified ad promotes products, services or rental properties advertised at very low prices, often lower than comparable items advertised on the same and other websites.
  • The seller claims to be unavailable (e.g. they are travelling or have moved overseas) and insists on payment prior to arranging for delivery of the goods.

The seller requests that you pay through international money transfers, cheques or direct bank transfers.

  • You receive a fake email receipt claiming to be from the website’s secure payment provider.
  • When dealing with rental property, the ‘landlord’ won’t allow you to view the property and will ask for bond, rent payments or deposits in advance.
  • For sellers

    • The potential buyer is willing to purchase your item without having viewed it in person – even if you are selling an expensive item such as a car.
    • A potential overseas buyer is interested in purchasing your item despite it being a commonly available item in their home country (e.g. a car or a couch). Often the shipping costs would far outweigh the cost of the item itself.
    • The buyer sends you a cheque for more than the agreed price, and then asks you to refund the overpaid amount.

    Protect yourself

    For buyers

    • If the advertised price of a good, service or rental property looks too good to be true, it probably is. If you have any doubts, don’t go ahead with the deal.
    • Don’t trust the legitimacy of an ad just because it appears in a reputable newspaper or classifieds website – scammers post fake ads in these too.
    • Do an internet search using the exact wording in the ad, many well-known scams can be found this way.
    • For rental properties or holiday accommodation, only use reputable online booking agents – do an online search to find out which ones are reliable. Always check the refunds and cancellations policy.
    • For expensive physical goods, the safest option is to only pay the seller after you have inspected the goods in person. Similarly, do not pay a deposit or any partial payments before you have inspected an item.
    • Don’t trust an ad that says you can buy a pet from overseas in a few weeks as there are quarantine procedures that need to be followed.

    Avoid any arrangement with a stranger that asks for payment via money order, wire transfer, international funds transfer, pre-loaded card or electronic currency, like Bitcoin. It is rare to recover money sent this way.

    For sellers

    • Be wary of any transactions that involve an overpayment, and requests to refund the excess money by internet banking or wire transfers.
    • Avoid any arrangement with a stranger that asks for payment via money order, wire transfer, international funds transfer, pre-loaded card or electronic currency. It is rare to recover money sent this way.
    • If you have been sent a cheque for more money than the agreed price, send it back and ask for another cheque with the correct amount.
    • Do not send the items to the buyer until the cheque has cleared in your bank account.
    • For items of high value, do not allow potential buyers to inspect the goods without someone else being there to supervise.

    Have you been scammed?

    We encourage you to report scams to the ACCC via the report a scam page. This helps us to warn people about current scams, monitor trends and disrupt scams where possible. Please include details of the scam contact you received, for example, email or screenshot.

    Spread the word to your friends and family to protect them.

    Contact the relevant website to let them know the scammer’s profile name and any other details that may help them to stop others being scammed.

    SCAM WATCH

    Online shopping scams involve scammers pretending to be legitimate online sellers, either with a fake website or a fake ad on a genuine retailer site.

    How this scam works

    While many online sellers are legitimate, unfortunately scammers can use the anonymous nature of the internet to rip off unsuspecting shoppers.

    Scammers use the latest technology to set up fake retailer websites that look like genuine online retail stores. They may use sophisticated designs and layouts, possibly stolen logos, and even a ‘.com.au’ domain name and stolen Australian Business Number (ABN).

    Many of these websites offer luxury items such as popular brands of clothing, jewellery and electronics at very low prices. Sometimes you will receive the item you paid for but they will be fake, other times you will receive nothing at all.

    The biggest tip-off that a retail website is a scam is the method of payment. Scammers will often ask you to pay using a money order, pre-loaded money card, or wire transfer, but if you send your money this way, it’s unlikely you will see it again or receive your purchased item.

    A newer version of online shopping scams involves the use of social media platforms to set up fake online stores. They open the store for a short time, often selling fake branded clothing or jewellery. After making a number of sales, the stores disappear. They also use social media to advertise their fake website, so do not trust a site just because you have seen it advertised or shared on social media. The best way to detect an fake trader or social media online shopping scam is to search for reviews before purchasing.

    Warning signs

    • A product is advertised at an unbelievably low price, or advertised to have amazing benefits or features that sound too good to be true.
    • The other party insists on immediate payment, or payment by electronic funds transfer or a wire service. They may insist that you pay up-front for vouchers before you can access a cheap deal or a give-away.

    The social media based store is very new and selling products at very low prices. The store may have limited information about delivery and other policies.

  • An online retailer does not provide adequate information about privacy, terms and conditions of use, dispute resolution or contact details. The seller may be based overseas, or the seller does not allow payment through a secure payment service such as PayPal or a credit card transaction.
  • Protect yourself

    Check if the website or social media page has a refund or returns policy, and that their policies sound fair. The better online shopping and auction sites have detailed complaint or dispute handling processes in case something goes wrong.

    Avoid any arrangement with a stranger that asks for up-front payment via money order, wire transfer, international funds transfer, pre-loaded card or electronic currency, like Bitcoin. It is rare to recover money sent this way. Never send money or give credit card or online account details to anyone you don’t know or trust.

    Have you been scammed?

    If you have bought something online and there is a problem, you should first try to contact the retailer or auction service. There may be a legitimate reason for the problem.

    If you are not satisfied with the response and suspect that it may be a scam, you may be able to arrange a charge-back through your bank or credit union if you have paid by credit card. You may wish to contact your local consumer protection agency to seek assistance.

    We encourage you to report scams to the ACCC via the report a scam page. This helps us to warn people about current scams, monitor trends and disrupt scams where possible. Please include details of the scam contact you received, for example, email or screenshot.

    Spread the word to your friends and family to protect them.

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