The most common scams online and how to avoid them

In 2020, Kiwis lost almost $19 million to online scams. That could buy you at least two houses in Auckland right now.

In all seriousness, despite being generally pretty savvy, people do lose significant sums to scammers every year. There are all sorts of scams out there, and the best way to avoid them is to be aware of them, know the signs, and know what to do if you so much as suspect something might be amiss.

Here are the most common local scams, as well as practical advice for avoiding becoming a scammer’s next victim.

Types of scams in New Zealand

Phishing scams

Phishing scams are when a scammer pretends to be a trustworthy company or brand – such as NZ Post or a bank – in order to get personal details from you.

For example, you might receive a text saying a parcel is waiting for you, but you need to fill out some details to claim it. Or, you might receive an email from ‘your bank’ that asks you to click the link and sign in for some reason. 

Phishing scams are some of the most common in the country, and unfortunately they often work well. Scammers are increasingly adept at making their texts and emails look like the real thing, which makes them harder to spot.

Online shopping scams

Online shopping scams are when scammers set up fake retail pages online, where it looks like you’re purchasing a genuine product but are in fact doing nothing but entering your credit card details and address into their databases.

These scams are effective as so many of us buy online– especially lately – so it doesn’t feel strange to make a purchase. Often, the easiest way to spot this kind of scam is to ask yourself one question: “Isn’t this deal a little too good to be true?”

Dating and romance scams

Dating and romance scams are when a scammer sets up online dating accounts and builds a romantic relationship with the victim, earning their trust, then finding ways to get the victim to send them money.

These kinds of scams are devastating, because not only do they result in major financial loss, they also cause genuine emotional distress, and often, result in feelings of shame for the victim. As more of us head online to find partners, these scams are increasingly common.

Identity theft

Identity theft is when a scammer obtains your personal details and pretends to be you for their own personal gain.

This could mean taking out credit cards or loans under your name, and is a very serious form of scamming as it can be extremely tough to not only discover the extent of the damage but to untangle all of it and prove that it was not you.

Scammers can even use identity theft to commit crime under your name, which is why it can be much harder to recover from than ‘simple’ financial losses.

Employment scams

Employment scams are when someone offers you a job that does not exist. It can come from a reputable company, and often involves working from home.

As much as working from home with a cushy paycheck and little responsibility would be wonderful, this is another case of it simply being too good to be true. Scammers might send you ‘employment contracts’ that are actually malware, or they might request personal details such as bank information as part of the onboarding process. They may even ask for some kind of fee, or for you to receive supplies to get started – which you would need to pay for by credit card.

False bills and invoices

Invoice scams are when a scammer sends you a fake bill for services or products that you never ordered or received. These scams can target anyone, but businesses are often the most vulnerable as they have different departments for ordering and bill payments, meaning that bills may be paid without double-checking they are legitimate.

These scams often also state that the invoice is overdue, or that there will be penalties or legal consequences for non-payment, adding an element of stress and urgency to the scam.

Hacking scams

Hacking scams are advanced technological scams, where hackers break into your laptop, computer, phone, or another digital device to gain access to your personal information, such as banking details.

This is often achieved through malware or ransomware, where hackers get you to download software that looks legitimate, but actually allows them to break into your devices.

How to avoid getting scammed online

The good news is that you can generally avoid getting scammed by staying vigilant and being aware of the warning signs.

Here’s everything you can do to avoid being scammed online:

  • never click on links from unknown numbers that text you
  • always check the email address from any institution to ensure it is correct
  • remember that no bank or business will ask for your password 
  • never log in to an online portal from an email – go directly to the website and log in there
  • never send money or gifts to someone you have never met (no matter how cute they are in their profile pic)
  • if a company calls you asking to log in or provide personal details of any kind, hang up. if you’re unsure, you can call the company on their direct line
  • never pay a bill or invoice unless you know you ordered and received those products/services
  • never save your credit card details anywhere online
  • if it’s too good to be true, it probably is (i.e. if someone offers you $5 million life insurance for 50c per year it’s probably a scam)
  • don’t download software from unknown providers
  • keep an eye on your credit card charges and make sure you know where they all come from
  • invest in anti-virus software on your computer and keep it up to date
  • cancel credit cards as soon as they go missing 
  • avoid using public computers and Wi-Fi connections
  • when buying online, look at reviews for previous buyers. If there are none, shop elsewhere
  • only shop online from reputable websites. Look for weird grammar, typos, and very few pages for signs of fraudulent online shopping sites
  • don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice. Talk directly to your providers or bank, or ask friends and family for their two cents if you’re unsure about anything
  • use different passwords for different sites, keep them hard to guess, and change them regularly
  • don’t accept a job you never applied for. If in doubt, contact the company directly

Online scams are scarily common, and it’s easy to fall for them. Your best bet is to keep a healthy level of caution with everything you do online. Be sure to talk to friends and family (especially older ones) about staying safe and not becoming a fly caught in the world wide web.

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