Wellington International Airport works to prevent online scams using their branding

One lost luggage scam was posted soon after the Wellington Airport terminal page was pulled.
One lost luggage scam was posted soon after the Wellington Airport terminal page was pulled. Photo credit: RNZ/Facebook

Story by Bill Hickman of RNZ

Wellington International Airport is fighting a constant battle to prevent online scams using their branding from reeling in unsuspecting people.

Airport spokesman Phil Rennie said as soon as one scam was taken down another would pop up in its place.

A recent deal advertised on Facebook looked like a steal: Lost or unclaimed luggage being sold for just $3 a piece.

At first glance, the page headed "Wellington Airport Terminal" seemed genuine - but closer inspection revealed fake accounts behind the comments of satisfied customers who had taken up the offer.

Airport spokesman Phil Rennie said his staff were struggling to keep up with the scams.

"These fake pages often pop up. We report them as soon as we can to Facebook. It usually takes a few weeks before they take action and take them down but literally within hours they pop up again using different names. It's very frustrating for passengers and the public but they are just relentless these scammers," Rennie said

Rennie said the airport would never sell passengers' luggage and that simple fact was a first indication that the page was a scam.

A link from the fake page led to an Air New Zealand branded website with survey questions and a counter showing time ticking away before the offer ended.

But the counter never ticked beyond 29 minutes to go and search functions and links to other pages did not work.

Rennie said the page seemed designed to extract personal information from unsuspecting participants.

"Fortunately we're not aware of anyone who has handed over their details just yet. There's a lot of fake comments on these pages. People saying that 'I've bought luggage and it turned out great'. Even the photos, they're all photoshopped. They've added the Air New Zealand logo but those pictures they're not from Wellington Airport, they're all from overseas," he said.

An Air New Zealand spokesperson said the airline was working to have the post removed.

Soon after the page was pulled from Facebook another appeared, this time headed 'Air NZ lost luggage' and linking to a similarly branded page, complete with the same counter stuck on 29 minutes to go.

Scams using Air New Zealand information have been circling social media.
Scams using Air New Zealand information have been circling social media. Photo credit: RNZ

A Facebook search of 'lost luggage' revealed multiple pages headed by different airlines and airports depicting similar offers.

Senior analyst for CERT New Zealand's threat and incident response team Sam Leggett said information extracted from victims could be used to access accounts and credit cards or to tailor other scams towards a target.

He said the number of similar online phishing and credential scams was growing each year as was the money they were pulling from New Zealanders' pockets.

"The total amount of financial loss that we saw reported to us in 2022 was just over $20 mil and it looks like we're on track for another increase in 2023. That certainly isn't capturing everything. When we look at other organisations their figures are often ten times the numbers that we are seeing and that's coming from the banks directly," Leggett said.

Leggett said it was important to maintain a healthy scepticism about deals that seemed too good to be true or anything that asked for passwords, account details or personal information.

A good indication of a scam could be that a site's URL address did not relate directly to the organisation it appeared to come from, he said.

"Unfortunately what scammers can do is they can really closely mimic website pages. In that sense it becomes really important to look at the website URL itself. NZTA is a really commonly impersonated brand. If you're clicking on an NZTA message and takes you to a page that doesn't end in 'NZTA.govt.co.nz' that's a really good indication that you're dealing with a scam," he said.

Many people were reluctant to admit they had been taken advantage of by a scam.

But Leggett said he hoped people sharing their experiences would help others know what to look out for and avoid becoming a victim themselves.

"We never want victims to feel like it's their fault. The truth is it's the scammers behind these attacks [who] are the ones at fault. These things can happen to anyone at anytime and sometimes all it takes is for us to be distracted by something else going on in our life that results in us clicking on that link and providing that information without thinking," Leggett said.