Official advice for New Zealanders living and travelling overseas

Internet fraud and international scams

Most of the travelling public, and those at home, are not millionaires, but you do need to learn to look after your cash and assets as a millionaire might.  Be wary and don’t succumb to temptations to become instant millionaires, instant diamond merchants, instant lottery winners, or find instant love and happiness on the internet.

International scams
Scams like inheriting vast sums of money from Nigeria, finding the love of your life via the internet, and helping that damsel in distress even though you have never met are becoming all too common. These have a devastating financial impact on many New Zealanders. Once money is sent overseas it is virtually impossible to recover.

Scams using your email address as the first point of contact are also on the increase. There have been reports of emails to relatives and friends from bogus hospitals or doctors overseas claiming that a travelling relative or friend has been injured and money is required to be sent for medical treatment. You should always check the contact is genuine, as this is a common method of extorting money. Treat any requests for money from overseas with caution. Check the story through a web search, or call the organisation back, but only through a publicly advertised number e.g. yellow pages or other reputable directories. Don’t use the contact details the potential scammer has sent you.

Some New Zealanders have also been defrauded by bogus internet friendship, dating and marriage schemes operating overseas. These scams typically result from connections made through internet dating schemes or chat rooms. Once a virtual relationship develops, the New Zealand citizen is asked by their friend or prospective marriage partner to send money to enable travel to New Zealand, or funds to pay for hospitalisation due to a sudden illness. Once the money has been received, the relationship is usually terminated and any chance of recovering the funds is highly unlikely.

Many countries on the tourist beat have their own special scams that target the overseas traveller. There are familiar tales of travellers being taken to a jewellery outlet by a friendly taxi driver, only to find on their arrival back home that their bargain price gemstone is made of glass. Or meeting someone on the street who wants to practice their English and then becoming an unwitting player in a “high stakes” poker game or being taken to a restaurant or cafÁ© that presents a final bill way in excess of what has been actually consumed. Things turn serious when you are unable to pay. You may be forced to the nearest ATM to settle your debt.

Awareness is the key. If your instincts are saying, a deal seems too good to be true, then it probably is.

Internet Fraud
Be aware of the risks of storing personal information (including documents with signatures, bank account information, scans of driving licenses and passports) on email accounts if you access your emails using unsecured public Wi-Fi while overseas.

If your email account is attacked, the hacker can potentially access enough personal information to commit theft and fraud by assuming your identity and sending emails that appear to have been sent by you. 

To avoid being a victim of fraud or theft while overseas:

  • regularly clear out information that could be used to verify your identity
  • use strong passwords (and don't re-use, change them every so often)
  • have good security software (up to date and automatic)
  • avoid public Wi-Fi where-ever possible, and if not,
  • keep up with security threats and common internet scams

If you are sending or receiving funds whilst overseas, new anti-money laundering legislation requires banks to ask you specific security questions to verify identity.  The intention of these restrictions on how banks can accept instructions to transfer money is to further help protect you from fraud.

For more information on possible fraud and major scam types visit www.consumeraffairs.govt.nz/scams.

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