New Zealand is quite simply awash with scams. Hardly a week passes when yet another one is highlighted in the media and some poor soul loses thousands of dollars.
Scammers are getting increasingly clever at getting money out of unsuspecting victims. Earlier this month I got an email from a fellow journalist requesting that I wire money to the UK because she'd allegedly lost her wallet.
Fortunately I didn't know the woman well enough to think that she'd ask me for money. As it turned out, a hacker had hijacked her Gmail account and sent emails to everyone in the address book requesting money in her name. Pretty clever huh.
Facebook members have also been targeted with similar scams where friends claim to be stranded overseas and in desperate need of cash . Other scams include dating scams where love struck Kiwis have been conned out of money to help out a newfound love they met online to pay medical bills or for an airfare to New Zealand or similar.
There have also been house letting scams here in New Zealand, where a prospective tenant sees a rental property advertised online and is asked to pay the bond and first week's rent up front before viewing. Invariably the property isn't available to let – or in extreme cases a criminal has got hold of the keys and is showing people around before taking deposits.
There is no single answer to avoid being scammed – although it's worth familiarising yourself with the website Scamwatch.govt.nz. You need to remain on your toes at all times.
Sad as it may be, it's not a good idea to hand over money to complete strangers – no matter how dire their situation appears.
Nor should you believe any requests for money received via email. Do what I did and call the person in question. I found that the journalist was out on her morning walk right here in New Zealand .
The really big red flag for me was the mention of Western Union. Although a genuine company, anyone asking you to transfer money through it should be treated with utmost suspicion. That's because scammers can simply pick up their ill gotten gains in cash from any one of thousands of small outlets around the world.
Other red flags to be on the lookout for include:
- "tradespeople" who knock on your door offering services, but require cash up front
- Any unexpected contact from strangers via email or in person
- Anyone who cold calls you . If the offer was that great there would be no need to cold call
- Any offer that seems too good to be true.
The moral is don't assume you'll never be a victim. Be sceptical. The emails continue to con people.