How to avoid the latest scams

How to avoid the latest scams
Photo credit: Getty

On top of all the stress and worry 2020 has already piled on us, the last thing anyone wants is to fall victim to a scammer.

But unfortunately fraudsters are as rife as ever and the COVID-19 pandemic is giving them plenty of opportunities to try and take your money.

For example, in mid-February, Westpac New Zealand's Fraud Detection Team found a customer had been targeted with a fake business invoice and paid out nearly $20,000 to a scammer.

The fraud team acted quickly and managed to recover the payments - but not every Kiwi fraud victim has a happy ending to their story.

"We're starting to see cold call scams around COVID-19 as we come down through the alert levels. They're related to investment scams or the 'need' for a customer to pay something urgently to have it released while in lockdown, for example," says Westpac NZ's Head of Financial Crime, Tiffany Ryan.

"We saw similar activity after the Christchurch terror attack where the scammers saw there was an opportunity to capitalise on the vulnerability of people and their goodwill."

Some of the specific methods scammers are using in the time of coronavirus and how to beat them are as follows:

Phishing emails and text messages

These techniques are used to steal your personal information by getting you to click on links in emails and text messages. Westpac has seen COVID-19 bring with it a new wave of phishing attacks, targeting the products and services we're using the most right now.

If you click a link in an email and it takes you to a login page, don’t log in.

Online gaming scammers

Kiwis have been playing more games online since the COVID-19 pandemic locked us in our homes. Unfortunately, some real life bad guys took advantage of this by targeting children in particular.

"A lot more kids are playing things like Roblox and Fortnite and there's a whole lot of people in those games to scam people. They groom kids through in-game voice chat while at the same time, the kids also get used to paying for things in the games, usually using their parents' credit cards," says Ryan.

"The scammers convince the kids to tell them their login details or to open a link they send them, then they've got access to their account and can do anything with it they like. So it's really important for parents to understand what their kids are playing online, what they're chatting about and what their credit cards are attached to in the games."

Fake competitions and giveaways

Social media networks have loads of scammers creating fake promotions. A free trip to LA or a free swimming pool might sound great, but unless they're being offered by the legitimate page of a company or organisation you trust, these promotions should be avoided. In some cases, they’re simply a means of harvesting your personal information, as answers to quizzes (such as “what was your first pet’s name?”) often match your security questions.

"These are about getting your details. They'll collect a whole lot of information off you, including your name, phone number and email address, then give you a call and tell you you've won but they just need your credit card or bank details to give you the money," says Ryan.

"Because you've already interacted with them online, you sort of expect their call. But you should search around online and make sure they're legitimate before putting any details in to begin with, then if they do call you should call them back on an official number before giving them any more details."

Online job scams

Fraudsters use people to move illicit funds by tricking them with fake jobs. The 'job' itself will usually involve the victim using their personal bank account to send and receive money. Any legitimate employer will have business accounts that they can use to transfer funds, and won’t ask you to use your own account.

Get-rich-quick schemes have been notorious since well before the internet existed, but they have become more sophisticated online. Have you ever noticed a dodgy looking ad saying something like: "if you were born in New Zealand before 1985, this could make you rich"?

Remember the age-old adage: if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Invoice scams

Scammers frequently attempt to access a business email account, wait until an invoice is actually being sent out, and then edit the account number on the invoice.  Everything looks legitimate, so it’s not uncommon for this type of fraud to go entirely undiscovered until months later, when the company who had their email account hacked realise they haven’t been paid. 

You should always check the account number on an invoice before paying it. If it has changed, contact using a trusted contact number (not the one on the email or invoice) to check the new account number is legitimate. For information about invoice scams click here.

Top tops for keeping safe:

  • Never provide your online banking passwords to anyone
  • Never click on a strange link from an email or text message and enter your details into where it takes you
  • If you're buying something online, investigate the website you're buying it from and make sure it's legitimate
  • Use a search engine and type in the name of the company or individual you're about to buy from, along with the word 'scam' - if other people have been scammed by it, you'll quickly find out
  • If someone claiming to be from a company calls you wanting information, always ask to call them back on an official number before giving over any details
  • Be especially suspicious any time someone tries to put pressure on you by urgently requiring funds

If something doesn't feel right - ring the bank immediately and let them know, especially if it involves an international payment.

The quicker they get onto something, the more likely it is you'll get your money back. And if you alert them to a scam before you fully fall victim to it, they may be able to save other Kiwis from being scammed.

This article is created for Westpac NZ