- Publish Date
- Monday, 1 July 2019, 1:27PM
Police are issuing a public warning after some banks indicated there may be hundreds of victims in an ongoing phone scam which has urged the public to post hundreds of thousands of dollars across the country or overseas.
Auckland City Financial Crime Unit's Detective Sergeant Kevin Blackman said police have received a significant number of reports regarding people falling victim to a phone scam, which involves callers falsely claiming to be from Spark and/or the police before convincing victims to withdraw or to transfer tens of thousands of dollars from their bank accounts.
Earlier this month, police investigating the scam reports were able to intercept two separate packages in Auckland containing a total of $25,000.
The two victims, one of whom was an 84-year-old woman, were identified and had their intercepted money returned by police.
Further inquiries revealed that both victims had posted further packages containing substantial amounts of money, which is yet to be recovered.
Blackman said these were just two examples of the unfolding scam, which police believe follows a clear pattern.
"The victims in these matters are almost always contacted initially on their landline phones," Blackman said.
"The caller typically claims they are from Spark, claiming there is a security or internet issue with their computer or router."
At some point in the conversation, the victims are told by email that they are the subject of identity theft or fraud.
They are then spoken to by a person falsely claiming to be a police officer.
"The victim is then told that police need their assistance to set up a 'trap' to catch the criminals," Blackman said.
"They are convinced to withdraw large sums of money – often in the area of $10,000 - $15,000 – and given an address to post the money to or bank account to transfer it to.
"The victims are often called repeatedly by the person claiming to be a police officer and talked into sending further large sums of money as part of the 'trap'.
"We are aware of victims being asked to send money to different addresses in Auckland, as well as overseas locations including Spain, Japan and Australia"
Blackman said by the time some people realised they had been scammed, they had lost tens of thousands of dollars, which has likely made its way overseas making it very difficult to be recovered.
"Not every case has been reported to police so we are unable to confirm how much money has been sent to the scammers, but it is easily in the hundreds of thousands of dollars."
Blackman said many of the victims were vulnerable, older members of the community who were less technologically-minded and therefore more likely to believe claims they've fallen victim to computer hacking or identity fraud.
"It's imperative that you warn your family and friends. Have conversations with your parents and grandparents, inform your elderly or vulnerable neighbours and ensure that everyone is aware of this scam," he said.
"Never give your personal details over the phone to a stranger. If you think a call may be suspicious, hang up immediately and do not engage with the caller.
"A police officer will never ask for your bank details over the phone or ask you to transfer money. If you receive a call of this nature, hang up immediately."
The New Zealand Telecommunications Forum (TCF) warns that consumers should be suspicious of any unsolicited calls from telecommunications companies.
TCF CEO Geoff Thorn said telecommunications providers would never ring and ask for personal information like credit card details, bank account numbers or request access to a computer or laptop without you knowing why.
"They will also never ring unexpectedly and tell you that there is a virus or security issue with your computer," he said.
"If you do have some concerns about a call, ring the company back on their publicly listed number, not the number they called you from, and alert them to the call you have just received. They will let you know if it was a legitimate call.
"We know that scammers can be persuasive, but if something seems to be unusual or completely out of the blue, then you should hang up."
Fraud education manager for the Commission for Financial Capability, Bronwyn Groot, said the organisation fully supported the public warning.
"We have heard of increasing numbers of fake 'Spark/telco' scams and the result of falling for this scam are devastating," she said.
"We urge the public to report any incidents of this scam to the police, their financial institutions and their telecommunications provider."
Police believe the scammers operate overseas but understand people in New Zealand may be assisting with sending the packages of money offshore.
Police want to hear from anyone who has information about this illegal activity.
"If you are asked to receive money from a stranger, you are likely to be engaging in money laundering and could face prosecution," Blackman said.
"There is no legitimate reason for a stranger to need to put money into your account. If you are ever asked, do not accept any money and contact police."
Anyone who believes they are a victim of a scam is advised to contact police immediately.
Anyone with information can contact Blackman by phoning 09 302 6400.
This article was first published on nzherald.co.nz and is republished here with permission.