Why the NZ Fraud Film Festival wants us to stop being ashamed if we're scammed

A scene from The Talented Mr Rosenberg movie.
A scene from The Talented Mr Rosenberg movie. Photo credit: YouTube

In a world still coping with the COVID-19 pandemic and frequent disasters like earthquakes, floods and cyclones, organisers of Auckland's International Fraud Film Festival say they need people to start thinking twice before clicking on links in emails or texts they'd not been expecting.

"There are some really good sophisticated scams out there," the festival's chairman Paul O'Neil told Newshub.

"I get the same emails, texts as other people. Sometimes I look at them and go, 'Jeez, that was a good one. I could have fallen for that'." 

O'Neil knows what he's talking about - he spent years working at the Serious Fraud Office overseeing their financial crime investigation and prosecution work, and dealing with scammers and their psychology.

It seems New Zealanders have never been more vulnerable to the possibility of being scammed.

On Thursday, BNZ put out an urgent email warning insurance payments could be next on the target list from scammers as people begin to expect payouts following the cyclone and floods across the motu.

In December 2022, it was revealed by the government's cyber security agency CERT NZ that Kiwis lost a record $9 million to internet scams in just three months. 

O'Neil said while most of the headlines around crime these days centre around ram raids and crimes against the individual, it's time to change attitudes toward financial crime and its growing multitude of victims.

"It's not only one of the most underreported crimes, it is actually one of the most impactful crimes as well. It has an impact on individuals who are affected by it and of course, causes deep embarrassment and shame alongside the financial loss," he said.

"The point of the Fraud Film Festival is to shine a bit of a light on this type of crime and make sure it does receive the attention."

Internet fraud continues to be our biggest financial scam.
Internet fraud continues to be our biggest financial scam. Photo credit: Youtube

On March 29 and 30 at Auckland's Q Theatre, industry professionals and the public will gather to discuss ways to tackle financial crime as well as view films on fraud and those that commit it.

Fraud Film Festival programmer Steve Newall says documentary The Talented Mr Rosenberg, about Canadian entrepreneur and convicted con man Albert Rosenberg - also known as the Yorkville Swindler - is one of the most astounding pieces they've ever shown.

"There's been a rise in compelling portraits of fraudsters and scammers in recent years, alongside our ever-growing fascination with true crime documentaries," Newall said. 

"What's particularly fascinating about The Talented Mr. Rosenberg is the titular scammer's decision to participate in the film to a much greater extent than we usually see. As we quickly learn, he's trying to salvage a tattered reputation: 'I'm not that bad'. Oh boy, he's arrogant. That's Rosenberg's downfall here."

O'Neil agreed, adding it's a shocking insight - and possibly one of the worst cases he's ever seen.

"Ego the size of a planet, just unashamedly talking about what he's done, justifying it to himself. You get an insight into one of those rare people whose psychology just means they don't have a conscience and they are just set up to exploit people and in this case, never stop."

As the cost of living crisis continues to bite, many of us will continue to receive offers that seem to be reasonable yet are too good to be true. However, O'Neil said the scammers will likely intensify in their quest to make money as society remains vulnerable.

"We find in difficult financial times, people are looking for high interest returns to make a quick buck, but oftentimes, [for the scammers] it's like gambling. It starts out small, gets big and snowballs - then the person's in too deep."

Both O'Neil and Newall agree though - the sophistication levels of scams are increasing, and we're often caught out before we know it.

"The message that keeps getting repeated by victims is don't think 'this can't happen to me', or 'I wouldn't fall for that'. The fraudsters are good at what they do," Newall said.

More information on the films and panels can be found at the official Fraud Film Festival website. https://fraudfilmfestival.co.nz/home