2 Aug 2019

Scam Scum: We're All Victims

From Two Cents' Worth, 2:00 pm on 2 August 2019

Last year, New Zealanders lost $33 million to scams. Madison Reidy looks at how that's impacting our economy and what we're doing to stop it.

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ANZ head of financial crime Paula Milne Photo: Supplied

Scammers are posing as law enforcement, including the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), to dupe New Zealanders and circumvent banks safety systems. 

They are constantly conjuring up new methods to make people distrust banks, Paula Milne says.

"Some of them are actually posing as the CIA and almost extorting them [New Zealanders], saying 'we have identified that you have been part of a child sex exploitation site, but if you give us this money we will take you off the investigation'. 

"And they [victims] panic and they pay it just to make it go away." 

ANZ had about 50 scam and fraud detection staff who block transactions daily, Ms Milne says.  

Scammers had begun coaching victims on ways to slip through banks safety measures, making detection more difficult, she says.

"They teach them how to go into the bank and what to say. [Victims are told] 'you cannot trust the banks, they are in collusion with these hackers'. 

"How do we combat it? We need to keep being aware of what is happening." 

There needs to be tougher regulation on banks because they did not currently share information about scammers and fraudsters, she says.

"We kind of end up with a whack-a-mole situation where they pop up somewhere else." 

Messy approach needs tidy-up

Martin Cocker, Netsafe NZ

Martin Cocker Photo: Supplied

Netsafe statistics show New Zealanders lost $33 million to scams last year, but the amount was expected to be much larger because many victims were too embarrassed to report their losses. 

Netsafe chief executive Martin Cocker says he is frustrated at the fragmented approach New Zealand has to preventing scams.  

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Bronwyn Groot Photo: Supplied

"Nobody has a definitive mandate to address scams. It really runs across a lot of portfolios but does not necessarily belong entirely in anyone," he says.  

"There is the Commission for Financial Capability, you have got the Serious Fraud Office, Consumer Protection [within] MBIE, ourselves, all of the banks with an interest, telcos have got an interest. Any law enforcement agency, the police." 

Mr Cocker calls for a single scam reporting agency.  

Commission for Financial Capability fraud education manager Bronwyn Groot agrees.  

"We definitely need a centralised reporting hub. I get a lot of referrals from other agencies, they have taken the report but then they cannot help the victim." 

Ms Groot was the only scam victim support person in the country. "We need more of me," she says.

Victim support is a gap that needed filling, Ms Milne agrees.

"There is not enough of Bronwyn to go around."