The alleged phone scammers arrested after targeting elderly and vulnerable New Zealanders are a "bunch of mongrels" who "definitely" need to be made an example of, a fraud expert says.
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Appearing on The AM Show on Wednesday, Commission for Financial Capability (CFFC) fraud education manager Bronwyn Groot says the problem is "absolutely huge".
"They're invading the sanctity and security of somebody's home by ringing them and stealing their money," she told host Duncan Garner.
"It's really hard to talk to an 80-year-old who's lost her life savings and is concerned that these people will have got her address, they know where she lives and all that."
Groot says the alleged scammers are targeting the older generation, leading to large losses for some of our most vulnerable.
"There's one lady who's lost a quarter of a million dollars," she says. "And there are really big losses involved here. Once the money's gone, it's really hard to get it back. The money movers really really fast and through multiple bank accounts as well."
So far, 13 people have been arrested and charged with money laundering. Police have arrest warrants for another three. And Groot says it's likely that even more criminals are involved.
"I present a lot around the country raising awareness around this and in a room of 200 I'll say 'who's had a call from someone pretending to be from Spark' and at least 90 percent of the room will put their hand up," she says.
"There's going to be more. There's more than 13. There are so many more victims that I believe haven't come forward.
"Based on what I'm hearing, with the calls being made around the country, it's certainly bigger than this."
How to protect yourself
The alleged scammers call victims and claim to be from Spark and the police before convincing them to hand over money. In some cases, the victims are told to download software which gives the scammers access to the victim's computer.
Despite public warnings, police say they are still continuing to receive reports of people falling victims to this scam.
"We really need the community to help us spread the message to their friends and family, particularly the more vulnerable, elderly members of our community, to make sure they are also aware of this scam," Detective Sergeant Blackman says.
"This is an important reminder to never give your personal details over the phone to a stranger.
"A legitimate business or a member of the NZ Police will never ask for your bank details over the phone or ask you to transfer money. If you think a call may be suspicious, hang up immediately.
"If you have concerns about a call, ring the company back on their publicly listed number, not the number they have called you on, and alert them to the call you have just received."
Police encourage anyone who has lost money as a result of this scam to report it to their local station.