The Australasian Consumer Fraud Taskforce has launched a trans-Tasman campaign to inform consumers about the most common types of scams and how to recognise whether an offer is genuine or false. Consumer Affairs Minister Judith Tizard announced in March the Ministry of Consumer Affairs and the Commerce Commission were joining the Australasian Consumer Fraud Taskforce, along with 16 agencies from across Australia.
Each year it’s estimated that millions of dollars leave Australian and New Zealand shores to line the pocket of professional fraudsters.
“The amazing thing is that the scams that succeed in getting consumers to part with their money are well known and documented. Yet, consumers continue to respond, despite warnings from government agencies, police and financial institutions,” Judith Tizard said.
Last year, an elderly Auckland woman’s involvement in a $2 million Nigerian scam (or advanced fee fraud) sent her to prison for seven years and had a shattering effect on other family members, friends and business associates. This case was an example of how a scam can take hold of someone’s life, with the woman and her husband still holding out hope that the scam will turn out to be a reality, despite evidence to the contrary.
Scams are a global problem and are becoming increasingly sophisticated in the way they target people. The increasing use of email and the internet to locate potential victims, and as a vehicle to perpetrate their crimes, makes it easy for scammers to send out anonymous emails worldwide, making it difficult for the enforcement agencies trying to catch them. Consumers need to look closely at any unsolicited information that is sent to them, resist these approaches and refuse to respond.
Key characteristics for consumers to look out for in identifying a scam include:
- it comes out of the blue
- it sounds like a quick and easy way to make money
- it tells you there is almost no effort or risk, and
- it sounds just too good to be true.
The top scams in 2005 identified by the Commerce Commission and the Ministry of Consumer Affairs included international prize and lottery scams, Get Rich Quick schemes such as Nigerian scams, and ‘phishing’ emails from criminals pretending to be your bank in an attempt to obtain your personal details and passwords.
The Ministry of Consumer Affairs operates the Scamwatch website (www.scamwatch.org.nz). This site provides consumers with information on types of scams currently operating, and links to New Zealand and global enforcement agencies that consumers can report scams to.