Online 'romance scam' causes New Zealander to lose over $800,000

Romance fraud is traumatic for victims both financially and emotionally.
Romance fraud is traumatic for victims both financially and emotionally. Photo credit: Getty

A "romance scam" has cost a Kiwi $840,000 in what was reportedly the biggest loss disclosed by Netsafe in the past year.

Kiwis reported losing $25 million to online scams and fraud across 4872 different reports from April 2019 to June 2020.

While it's less than the previous April-June period, Netsafe chief executive Martin Cocker says only a small amount of fraud is reported making it hard to judge whether the decline is significant.

"Sometimes people are embarrassed to seek help, or they simply don't know where to go for support," Cocker told

"Scammers are investing the time to find personal data people share online. They are then creating scams that appear authentic and mimic well-known organisations and processes that people trust to lure them in."

Online scam victims can experience strong emotional bonds with online partners, leading to feelings of grief and betrayal once the fraudster's true intentions are revealed.

Scammers can be patient - they may keep a relationship going for months before beginning to request money or drop hints about problems that could be solved with money.

Recent BNZ data shows that 61 percent of victims have not reported being scammed, with a quarter of Kiwis telling no one at all.

BNZ research also shows 35 to 44-year-olds and elderly are prime targets, but scammers can target anyone of any age.

Money is rarely recovered from online scams as they are difficult to police.

Netsafe: Tips to spot a romance scam

A "romance scam" is when a fraudster poses as a love interest by creating a fake identity online, in an attempt to convince someone to send them money. Here's how you can spot them:

  • Moving quickly - Confessions of love or strong feelings within a short time of meeting the person online
  • Personal troubles that can be solved with money - If your new love mentions health problems, family issues, business troubles, or other issues that could be solved with money
  • Requests for money: You should be wary of any request for money
  • Changes in communication style: If there are several scammers taking turns to maintain the relationship, their writing styles may change
  • Be wary if they're hesitant about a meeting: If a new romantic contact is not willing to meet up or talk via video call, or comes up with a series of excuses to avoid meeting, be cautious
  • Financial assistance to meet in person: Be careful about offering or giving the person money so that they can meet you in person
  • Reverse image search: Check if the images they've sent you are being used publicly online.

Netsafe: How to avoid romance scams

  • Be cautious about who you communicate with online
  • Don't respond to requests or hints for money
  • Never send money to anyone you don't know or haven't met in person
  • Avoid giving out personal details that could be used to impersonate you
  • If you think you're being scammed, stop all contact and avoid sending further payments
  • Contact Netsafe for free and confidential advice if you feel something isn't quite right.