Scams you won't see coming - so be warned

This may seem obvious, but here's some good advice - don't get naked for strangers on the internet. Or anyone, for that matter.

During 2017, users reported more than $10 million to NZ-based online security organisation Netsafe. The average loss was $10,771, the biggest was $480,000 and the smallest was $1.

Among the myriad of online scams that tripped up unsuspecting victims every day, one of the most bizarre was webcam blackmail.

"Sexploitation has evolved as a new way to blackmail people online," explains Netsafe technology and partnerships director Sean Lyons.

"In many cases, people are lured into taking part in an online video chat session after making a new friend on a social media website, or after receiving a message on a dating app or Skype chat.

"After chatting for a while, the victim is encouraged to take their clothes off and to engage in sexual activities."

Mr Lyons says the session is recorded and the "new friend" eventually threatens to post it online or send it to family members, unless a ransom is paid.

"The impact of sexploitation can range from mild embarrassment and a sense of humiliation to extreme emotional harm.

"This is a serious global issue and blackmailers can be located anywhere around the world.

"These blackmailers can be individuals working alone, but there are also highly organised criminal groups profiting from sexploitaion."

Here are a few other particularly devious scams you need to be aware of:

Government grant scams

These are simple in nature - scammers call people, claiming to be from the "New Zealand Government Grant Department" and maybe even providing a fake employee ID number.

"A common claim is that the target has been chosen to receive a grant as a reward for being a good citizen, for having no criminal convictions or for voting for a certain political party," says Mr Lyons.

"They'll then ask for personal details in order to process the grant payment or for an 'administration fee'."

Fake invoice scams

This occurs when a business is ordered to pay for services it neither requested nor received.

"The scammer will send an invoice for goods or services you haven't received, or a fake service, such as a trade directory," says Mr Lyons.

"This could be a printed invoice that looks legitimate or even an email that looks as if it's come from a legitimate business, insisting that you've ordered the goods or services."

Receiving unsolicited goods

Targets receive goods they haven't ordered and the company sending them demands payment for the product.

"The company acquires personal details about a person - name, email and mailing address - and sends a product they haven't requested," says Mr Lyons.

"These people requesting payments can be intimidating and aggressive, and even threaten legal action."

Romance scams

More than $1.4 million was lost to romance scams alone during 2017. 

These occur when a scammer pretends to be in a relationship with someone online, in order to scam them out of money.

"They do this through email, social media, dating websites and other website and apps," says Mr Lyons.

"Usually, these scammers are pretending to be someone they're not, using photos and identities of people they've found online."

To safeguard against scammers, Netsafe recommends:

  • Don't respond to out-of-the-blue calls requesting remote access to your computer.
  • Use strong passwords on online accounts and don't tell anyone what they are.
  • Keep personal information secure.
  • Ignore offers of money, if you have to make a payment up front.
  • Use a good antivirus program and keep software up to date.
  • Beware of unusual payment requests.