We've all heard about online scams and it's true that these can be dangerous. Here are some common scams to be aware of, and some ways you can keep yourself safe.

Unsolicited phone calls or text messages

Be wary if you get a call or a text message from someone claiming to be from your bank, credit card provider, or a general 'tech support' company. They might claim they're contacting you because there have been suspicious transactions on your card or bank account or that your computer has been hacked or infected with a virus or malware.

Scammers may also call or message you from an unknown number, pretending to be a loved one in difficulty and in need of money. They might claim that they've lost their phone and this is their replacement number.

Also watch out for caller ID spoofing where the caller ID on your phone displays a different number to the one being used to make the call. Scammers use this technique in the hope that you will answer if it appears to be coming from a local number or trusted organisation. Find out more about caller ID spoofing at idcare.org.

They'll try and get you to disclose personal information such as your login details or password. They might also try to convince you to install software that allows them remote access to your computer. Don't tell them anything and don't give them access to your computer.

If you receive a suspicious text message, please forward this to 7726.

Tips to avoid unsolicited phone calls or text messages
  • Never share your password or PIN with anyone, even if they claim to be from your bank or another trusted organisation.
  • If you think the person might legitimately be from your bank or another company you deal with, get their name and call the company back on their official support number, which you should be able to find on their website or in the phone book.
  • Contact us on 0800 113 355 to let us know the phone number that's been calling, or texting you, and we can get the number blocked for you.
  • If you're unsure of a person's legitimacy when they're claiming they're a loved one and in need of money, offer to ring them back on a trusted/known number or ask them a personal question to confirm their identity.
  • Maintain a healthy level of caution with unknown or blocked numbers.
  • Never let someone talk you into giving them remote access to your computer. They could be installing dodgy software that will enable them access to all of your personal and financial information.
  • If you think you're talking to a scammer, politely say no to whatever they're asking you to do and hang up. Don't be tempted to get into an argument or try and trick them, as they may then put you on a 'harass list' and you'll find yourself fielding endless nuisance calls.
  • Record the time of the call or text message and the phone number. If you receive multiple calls or texts from the same number you may be able to report them to your phone provider as a nuisance caller. You can also report them at netsafe.org.nz/report.
  • Report text message spam to the Department of Internal Affairs.
If you've shared personal information
  • Change your passwords.
  • Read the Identity Theft Checklist for a helpful guide on what could happen with your personal information if you've shared it with a scammer.
  • If you think you've been exposed to identity theft, contact iDCare for free help and support.
If you've given someone remote access to your computer
  • Disconnect your device from the internet at your wifi router and turn it off immediately. This will stop the scammers from having remote access to your device. If you're not sure how to do this call a trusted friend or family member to help.
  • Change all your passwords using a different device, so the scammers can’t use your account. This includes passwords for your banking, social networking, email and trading accounts like TradeMe as well as other accounts like TAB. Learn how to choose a strong password.
  • Run a full security scan. If the scammers had access to your device, they may have installed malware on it. Malware is a piece of software that can be put on to a device to damage, harm or gain unauthorised access to a computer system. If you think there may be malware on your device, talk to an IT specialist who can confirm if there is and get rid of it for you. You can use a free online virus-scanner to look for threats on your computers. If you have a PC try ESET online scanner or Kaspersky Virus Removal Tool. Once you've run one of those scans, run Malwarebytes Anti-Malware free edition. If you have a Mac, use Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac or ESET Cyber Security for Mac or AVG Antivirus for Mac.
  • If you use online banking, contact your bank to let them know you’ve been targeted. Keep an eye on your accounts and check statements for rogue purchases.
  • If you’re worried that something may have been loaded onto your device, then disconnect from the internet and don't log back on until you have had your hard drive re-formatted and your operating system re-installed. You may need to seek the advice of a computer specialist to do this – remember to backup any essential files before doing this.

Internet dating scams

Online dating scammers may approach you in a number of ways – chat rooms, social networking sites, unsolicited emails or dating websites – all the same ways that genuine lonely hearts will approach you.

They'll build up a relationship of trust with you, then eventually ask for some type of financial help. Usually, they'll ask you to send money to pay for airfares for them to visit you or to help them out of a sticky situation while they’re travelling. They can also send you a fraudulent international cheque and ask you to cash it and send the money back to them. If you do this and the cheque dishonours, you'll be liable to pay for it.

Tips to avoid internet dating scams
  • Use extreme caution when asked to send money to someone you've met over the internet.
  • Be wary if they only give you a post office address and a phone number which they never answer and doesn't have voicemail.
  • Look for discrepancies with the information they're telling you.

Investment scams

This can also often take the form of a cold call. A scammer claiming to be a stock broker or portfolio manager calls and offers financial or investment advice. They claim the investment opportunity they're offering, which is usually in overseas companies, is low-risk, but offers fast and high returns. These scams are often sophisticated to the point they'll have created fake websites and other material to back up their claims. They'll be persistent and may keep calling you back.

NOTE: It’s illegal to sell financial products through a cold call in New Zealand. If you’re contacted in this way, it’s likely to be a scam.

Another investing scam is when you're contacted by email or a message in a forum encourage you to buy shares in a company the scammer is predicting will increase in value. They'll stress the need to act quickly or miss out and the message will seem like an inside tip. The scammer is trying to boost the price of share, so they can sell shares they already own and make a big profit. The share price will then go down dramatically, leaving you with shares that are virtually worthless.

Tips to avoid investment scams
  • Politely say 'no thanks' and hang up the phone - they're likely to be persistent, so you may need to do this a few times.
  • It might be tempting to engage them in conversation to try and 'trick' them or argue with them - don't do this as they may put you on a 'harass' list.
  • If you're unsure whether you're talking to a scammer or a legitimate organsation, hang up and call the organisation using their official helpline number. Don't use contact number provided by them, or on websites or material they direct you to.
  • If you're still unsure, get in touch with us on 0800 113 355 and we'll help you work if the contact is legitimate.

Altered invoice scams

This is a tricky one, as it usually an invoice or request for payment that you were expecting and the invoice appears to come from the business that it’s supposed to. The only visible difference is the bank account number on the invoice that has been altered or a follow up email is sent with a request to change the account number.

Scammers can access to a business’ email account and they’ll read the emails for a couple of weeks to see when large payments are due. The scammer then sends an email from the business’ email address asking the customer to pay into a different bank account as they have recently changed banks.

Tips to avoid altered invoice scams
  • Call the business that sent the invoice on their official phone number. Use the number saved in your phone or on their official site (not the number listed on the invoice) to check that it is a legitimate invoice and that the bank account number on the invoice is correct.
  • Always confirm if goods or services have been requested and received by others in your business or household before paying an invoice.
  • Limit the number of people in your business who are authorised to make orders or pay invoices.
  • Immediately cut contact with the scammers.

Cryptocurrency scams

Digital currencies, including the well publicised Bitcoin and others such as Ethereum, have been around since 2008 and although these are popular investment options, the currencies aren't regulated in New Zealand. The Financial Markets Authority (FMA) website has a good overview of cryptocurrencies.

Cryptocurrencies and anyone trading in digtal currencies are often the target of attacks, online fraud and scams. In recent years there have been attacks on cryptocurrency exchanges, the places where currencies are stored, leading to investors losing significant sums. More recently scams are circulating on social media sites, offering unrealistic investment returns. Some of these scams claim to be endorsed by well-known New Zealanders or are run as pyramid type schemes where investors are encouraged to bring others on board the scheme.

CERT NZ have some further details about cryptocurrency security and The Spinoff show you how to spot a cryptocurrency scam.

Tips to avoid cryptocurrency scams
  • Be aware of the risks.
  • Know what you’re getting into when purchasing cryptocurrency.
  • Do your research into the platforms you're using to purchase or trade digital currencies.
  • Use extreme caution when interacting with any digital ads offering cryptocurrency investments.

Online sellers

Scammers can use online buy and sell pages, including Facebook Marketplace, to deceive buyers. Some tricks these sellers use are listing items that are counterfeit, that they don't have to sell or have no intention of sending. The Citizens Advice Bureau have an outline of your consumer rights when buying goods on Facebook Marketplace.

There are legitimate sellers using Facebook business pages and Marketplace to sell goods. Before you purchase, research the seller. Do they seem legitimate? Do they have a physical address or contact details?

Tips to avoid online seller scams
  • Double check deals that are too good to be true.
  • Check the listing details. Does the description sound accurate and are there photos of the actual item?
  • Ask questions of the seller and check their profile details. If buying from an individual whose profile appears new or incomplete, this could be a sign that the account has been set up to scam.
  • If buying from a page, check their reviews to see if previous customers have had problems.
  • If it's a private sale, is it possible to see the item before handing over any money?
  • Look out for blue or grey ‘ticks’ on the page which are given to pages or profiles verified by Facebook.
  • Use regulated websites who have measures in place to protect buyers and sellers.

Ticket resellers

Picture this, you want to get tickets to that sold-out show. You can't find tickets anywhere but you come across a site that has a limited number available to purchase. The timer is counting down, you panic and click 'buy now'.

Buyers need to be wary of buying event tickets through third party resellers, such as Viagogo. The Commerce Commision have received multiple complaints from buyers who have purchased through reseller sites only to find that the tickets were fradulent and not valid for the event. That 'hottest ticket in town' may suddenly become a big flop when you get to the door and your ticket doesn't scan.

Tips to avoid ticket reseller scams
  • When buying event tickets, purchase through the official ticket seller where possible.
  • There are legitimate ticket resellers, but these will often be associated to the official seller.