Keeping safe from online scammers

Common sense and a healthy amount of scepticism can keep you safe from those who want to rip you off. If an offer seems too good to be true, then it probably is.

In the same way that being fearful of others can lead older people to isolate in their homes, fear of being scammed can lead people to shun the internet, email and other new ways of communicating and staying in touch.

Yes, scammers are out there, and the internet provides a world of opportunity for them and at this time of  year they take advantage of people’s kindness towards others. But applying a bit of common sense and a healthy amount of scepticism can keep you connected and also safe from those who want to rip you off.

There’s lots of help available online – check out Consumer NZ, the Commission for Financial Capability and Netsafe. Boiling all the advice down to one thing, it’s quite simple – If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is. Nigerian princes and UK bankers aren’t clambering to send you large sums of money. Similarly, dashing young foreigners aren’t seeking your affections; much more likely they are after your money. They are also unlikely to be dashing or young.

Romance scams in particular are cruel and insidious, playing on someone’s sense of loneliness and their desire for companionship. Having established trust, the scammer will ask for money under some pretence, or for help with banking transactions that are in fact money laundering. The latter is a criminal offence and several such Kiwi “money mules” have been convicted – one woman was sentenced to six months community detention after being duped by a man she met on a dating site.

Scammers grow more sophisticated the more that authorities expose their ruses. The level of sophistication can take in even the most wary, so there is no shame in admitting you have been duped. In fact, reporting scams is the best way to ensure they are closed down, as authorities and net watchdogs can circulate warnings and take steps to block the offenders.

Awareness is our best defence against the scammers, and we can all play a part in spreading the message. Raising the subject with friends and family is a good place to start – it’s highly likely people in your circle have been targeted by scammers, if not taken in. Forewarned is forearmed, and sharing these stories helps us all to remain vigilant.


  • Never reply to any email asking you to confirm your bank or credit card details. Legitimate organisations will never ask you to do this. The same applies if you’re asked for this information over the phone.
  • If you’re buying goods online, check the billing process is secure (characterised by https:// and a padlock symbol in the URL). Ensure the business has a physical address and telephone number.
  • Research the firms you’re dealing with. Use the Companies Register to see if the company exists and who’s behind it.
  • Don’t be swayed by cold-callers promising bargain deals or instant riches if you sign up on the spot. Legitimate companies will give you time to do your research.
  • If you think you’ve been scammed, report it to police. If you’ve handed over your bank details, contact your bank and immediately suspend your account. Fraudulent credit card transactions can sometimes be reversed.

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