Warning as international phone scammers target Kiwis

Phone scammers are back, targeting New Zealanders with multiple scam calls a week.

The calls come from overseas numbers, including the UK, Canada, and South America - and when they're refused money, the scammers become hostile.

One Auckland woman has received numerous harassing calls telling her she had signed up for the scammers' business.

"He had a foreign accent which sounded kind of South American and he was thanking me for signing up to their company to earn a secondary income, and when I said I didn't he got a little bit threatening, like 'why did you sign up if you don't want to be involved?'" she told Newshub.

"And then I hung up and they've called me at least 10 times."

People on Reddit New Zealand have had similar experiences.

"In the last few months I have had about a dozen or so calls on my personal cellphone from an unknown number in Ontario," says one target.

"I strongly suspect it's spam as I have never had anything to do with Canada I don't think, just wondering if anyone else has experienced this?"

Previous well-known scams to hit NZ were the 'Wangiri' scam - when victims call the numbers back, they are charged big bucks, all of it going to the scammer.

Another scam was people claiming to be from Spark, saying bills are owed and the internet will be cut off unless the money was paid.

But this time, the scammers are targeting people by offering business opportunities - with a catch.

"The general theme of them seems to be trying to sell some 'great opportunity to buy into some business shares/property in Ontario/ British Columbia'," one person said on the Reddit thread.

"Every now and then someone in the office will play them along but generally just hang up/not answer. Someone looked into it and the numbers were being routed through Canada from India or something like that."

"They call cellphone numbers and pretend that you have signed up for their services (my work mate got a fake stock trading company, name ended with 12) and try to get credit card details to 'confirm' it," another said.

"When you challenge them, they accuse you of being a scammer and try to insinuate that you will be in trouble if you don't do as they request."

One piece of advice offered by community members frustrated by the number of scam calls is to tell scammers you're underage.

"They told me I could sign up for some trading thing so I said I was 15-years-old and needed to ask permission. They hung up pretty quickly," another said.

Police say if you have any doubt about a phone call or email, it is likely it is a scam. If you are threatened, simply hang up.

Police targeted by scammers

On Thursday night, police say a staff member was phoned by someone from overseas they didn't know - and he's sure it was a scam.

"There were approximately three or four calls throughout the evening as they tried to connect with us and the number was definitely from overseas.  The first calls were straight hang ups," says Detective Sergeant Heath Jones.

"When they were finally able to connect and speak to me it was a male sounding of Indian or Middle Eastern descent. In the background there was the noise of a 'busy office' with male and female voices. It very much sounded like a call centre."

The scammers told Det Sgt Jones he had a 'computer problem', and he played along.

"The man wanted me to follow his instructions to fix it, including typing 'support.me' into a search engine," he says.

"Eventually they hung up, when I didn't do as they asked, but I am concerned that other people in the Eastern District are being targeted too and may be tricked into giving them access to their computers."

How to keep safe:

Once your number is targeted, it's difficult to do a lot except wait until the scammers move on. So here are some top tips from Vodafone on how to keep yourself safe in the future.

Set a password (not something easy to guess like 1234) on your phone, laptop, or tablet and keep them locked when not in use. Never share your passwords or PIN numbers and make sure they're not easy to guess. Set up a PIN for your voicemail, so only you can access it.

Be cautious with sharing personal information on social networking sites, like Facebook or chat rooms. If possible, remove your date of birth and address from your page. Ensure that you have adequate privacy settings for your Facebook profile.

Don't give anyone your personal details, unless you're very sure you know who they are. Just because someone says they're from your bank doesn't mean it's true.

Watch out for phishing: where you get sent links online which might take you to a fake website. Do not open attachments sent to you from strange numbers, they might contain a virus.

Buying online? Make sure the site address starts with HTTPS. This means the website is secure and your personal details and credit card details will be kept secure.

Lost or stolen device? Hop onto a PC and change all your passwords of the apps that have auto logins, for example Facebook, Email, Twitter. This will prevent the person who picks up your device from accessing these apps and potentially hacking into your personal details

Think you've been the victim of a scam or fraud?

Contact your bank and put a stop on your credit card, tell your local police, and change the passwords and PIN on all your bank accounts. Get in touch with your telco provider immediately and let them know.

And don't be embarrassed! These people make their living by fooling intelligent people. Make sure you let the appropriate people know immediately, rather than suffering in silence.