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.

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.

How you can protect yourself

  • 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.

Online job scams

A 'job' is listed on an employment website or emailed to you, requiring you to simply accept money transfers into your bank account, then forward the money on to a company based overseas. You'll get a percentage commission for doing this.

The money is almost always from another New Zealand bank account and is transferred to your account without the account holder's knowledge or permission. It's likely the account holder has been the victim of a phishing scam or had some type of malicious spyware installed on their computer.

By taking this job and receiving and transferring this stolen money, you may be held liable for the funds, and investigated by the police.

How you can protect yourself

  • Be suspicious of any employment opportunities that require the use of your bank account. In our experience they're always scams, and if it all goes sour, you're liable. If it seems dodgy, it probably is.
  • If you find yourself involved in something that fits this description, contact us immediately.
  • If you've already received the money into your account, don't transfer the money out or access the funds. Call your bank’s fraud team and they will help you to file a police report and return the money to its rightful owner.

Online trading

A common online trading scam involves criminals based overseas using fake traveller's cheques, bank drafts or foreign cheques to pay for an item that you are selling online. The cheque or draft is made out for much more than the agreed price, then they buyer will ask you to send the excess amount back to them.

It can take a long time for banks to confirm a cheque or draft is counterfeit – especially when it's come from overseas, so your bank will usually allow you access to the funds before they know if the item is counterfeit. If the payment is then dishonoured and you've returned the excess funds to the sender, you'll be held liable for the entire amount, plus you may have already sent the item to the buyer.

How you can protect yourself

  • Read the recommended safety precautions on the trading sites you use. Sites like Trade Me and Ebay have good advice on how to trade safely
  • Read the terms and conditions of the site you use
  • Be very cautious when selling your goods to people from overseas, especially if they're paying by traveller's cheque, bank draft or foreign cheque
  • Do an internet search on the name of the person who's sent you the cheque – it's common for someone who has been duped to let others know of the scam
  • Visit the ConsumerProtection website and check that the circumstances around your receiving a cheque aren't related to a known scam
  • If you bank a cheque or draft and you think it may be fraudulent, don't access the funds, and alert your bank's fraud team
  • If you have any concerns, contact us.