Scambusters: Netsafe chief executive Brent Carey on the rise of scams, romance scammers | #datingscams | #lovescams

Even the head of Netsafe can’t escape the tentacles of the scammers.

“Yes, I’ve been scammed,” says chief executive Brent Carey. “I had to cancel my credit card after a transaction. I did some online shopping and, yeah, it was a scam. Luckily, I was able to get it reversed.”

As head of Netsafe, Carey runs the country’s biggest scam-reporting centre, which receives 15,000 reports of scams a year. The numbers have been increasing by about 25 per cent a year.

While scammers target the savings of innocent victims, it’s the ones who also target people’s hearts that cause some of the worst devastation.

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“The romance scams are double-edged because it’s money plus emotion and they are becoming more sophisticated as well,” Carey says.

According to Netsafe, there has been a 9.6 per cent growth in romance scams over the past two years.

There have been 645 romance scams reported in the two years to March 12, 2024, resulting in financial losses of $4.54 million.

Six out of 10 victims were women.

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Data shows the number of romance scams in Wellington, Auckland, Waikato, Nelson, West Coast, Marlborough and Manawatu-Wanganui are all over-indexed on a per-capita basis. Taranaki, Canterbury and Otago are the three lowest-indexed regions.

Carey says romance scams can be difficult for wider family members who might spot something is up.

“It’s hard to know how as a family you challenge someone that their love may be real but their lover may not be. So how do you intervene?

“They [the scammers] are social engineering these people. A lot of them don’t have their accounts locked down from a privacy and security setting, and so the person is led to believe that they are who they say they are, and that they are genuinely interested romantically. And that’s the sorry part of those romance scams.

“Because when it all becomes obvious that this is a scam, people feel incredible shame. There’s a big counselling and mental health element to what we do in those types of scams.”

Netsafe chief executive Brent Carey.
Netsafe chief executive Brent Carey.

Carey said sextortion was at epidemic levels, with an 88 per cent increase in complaints to Netsafe. Police were receiving about 50 cases a week, he said.

Victims were generally younger and were being blackmailed for content or money.

Young boys were being targeted the most, he said.

They were being blackmailed for money after sending the likes of nude images to who they thought were generally young women. The “young women” turn out to be scammers and threaten to release the images unless money is paid.

“It’s an impersonation scam,” Carey says.

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His advice?

“This is organised crime often and the main thing is to try and pause – stop engaging with the scammer. Often they don’t follow through, they move on to the next victim. This is a numbers game.

“Contact Netsafe so that we can talk about their privacy and security settings that are applied, how to block someone, how to block that contact. Obviously, we’re working with parents and young people, and talking to parents about their safety settings.”

Carey says scams are under-reported by New Zealanders.

A survey by Netsafe and the Global Anti-Scam Alliance (GASA) puts the total figure lost by Kiwis at more than $2 billion.

Scam Q3
Scam Q3

The two organisations describe scams as “one of the most pressing challenges of our time”.

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“Beyond the financial repercussions, scams erode trust, inflict emotional trauma and undermine the very fabric of our digital society,” GASA managing director Jorij Abraham says.

Their survey of 1000 New Zealanders reveals scams are on the rise.

“Over half witnessed a rise in scams over the past year, emphasising the growing threat.”

Seventeen per cent of the survey’s 1000 respondents had been scammed, losing an average of $3165.

Scam Q5
Scam Q5

“I was shocked at how high the average was that each New Zealander was losing,” Carey says.

“Three grand is quite a lot for the average Kiwi to lose in the cost of living crisis – and that’s only the ones that have been reported.”

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Carey says there’s a misconception it’s just elderly people being scammed.

He and a Netsafe team attended the recent O Week at Otago University and were surprised to find students were worried about scams the most when it came to online.

“It’s interesting because you think, ‘Oh, they’re digital natives’. But they’re like, ‘No we’re being scammed on [Facebook] Marketplace, we’re being scammed for counterfeit goods. We’re in online shopping and we’re being scammed there.

“It was good to challenge that scam persona that we build up, that it’s people who aren’t technology savvy or it’s seniors. But, no, it affects everyone.”

Netsafe’s guide to scam spotting

An online scam is any scheme designed to trick people out of money or steal their personal information that uses, or is delivered via, digital communications. Here are a few tell-tale signs you might be being scammed:

  • Contact that is out of the blue – even if the person says they’re from a legitimate organisation like the bank, an embassy or your internet provider.
  • Getting told there’s a problem with your phone, laptop or internet connections – often they will offer to fix your device or say they are from your phone or internet company.
  • Being asked for passwords – legitimate organisations will never ask for the passwords to your online accounts.
  • Needing to verify your account or details – don’t respond or click on any links in the communication even if it looks like it’s from a real organisation.
  • Trying to get you to move outside an online trading or booking website or app (like Air BnB) – don’t pay outside the normal website or app processes.
  • Offering money or a prize in exchange for something up front – they might say it’s a “processing” fee or something similar.
  • Being asked for money by friends/partners you’ve met online – this is a very common tactic, do not pay the money.
  • Unusual ways to pay for something – scammers try to use payments that can’t be traced such as pre-loaded debit cards, gift cards, bitcoins, iTunes cards or money transfer systems.
  • Asking for remote access to your device – never do this unless you have actively sought out the service they are providing.
  • Pressuring you to make a decision quickly – this could be to avoid something bad (e.g. account being closed, trouble with the IRD) or to take advantage of something good (a deal or investment).

Source: Netsafe

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  • Scambusters is an independent editorial series brought to you with the support of the Banking Association.

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