A BNZ customer who was unwittingly turned into an electronics mule by a relationship scam was so unwilling to accept he had been defrauded that he took his business to another bank, BNZ’s head of financial crime says.
The bank is running its Scam Savvy week from Monday.
Head of financial crime Ashley Kai Fong said, while scam activity slowed as countries around the world went into Covid-19 lockdown, it had picked up again as restrictions loosened.
BNZ customers were most commonly affected by tech support scams, in which people rang claiming to be trying to “fix” problems, but in reality gaining access to their computers. The prevalence of invoice scams, in which people were sent a believable invoice, but with the payment details changed, had increased over the past year.
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The number of online and bank impersonation scams had increased 75 per cent year-on-year, he said. That involved people contacting bank or telco customers pretending to be from their provider in an attempt to get their passwords or credit card information.
A CERT NZ report found a 229 per cent increase in scams in the second quarter of this year compared to the same time last year, and a 4 per cent increase across all cyber scams and frauds in the first half of the year. New Zealanders lost $7.8 million in total in the first six months of 2020 to online scammers.
Kai Fong said one of the more difficult scams dealt with in the past year related to a customer who was receiving mobile phones and laptops that had been paid for with a stolen credit card.
He received them on behalf of a person he believed to be his girlfriend, whom he had met online. He then sent them internationally.
The scammer told him that the money from the sale of the goods would pay for her to fly to New Zealand to be with him.
“This male customer was in love and, unwittingly, an electronics mule. Under the guise of a serious relationship an overseas scammer was using our customer to receive illegally procured goods and get them to customers around the world.
“We spotted the illegal activity and attempted to convince the victim that what he was involved in was a sophisticated romance scam where he was being used as an intermediary for stolen goods. But he wasn’t having a bar of it, he was too far down the rabbit hole.”
The customer stopped his banking relationship with BNZ and went to ground. Despite repeated inquiries from BNZ it is not known whether the customer continues to deal with the scammer.
The man did not lose any money as a result of the scam. Kai Fong said the fraud was uncovered through merchant transactions made through BNZ’s systems – there were large numbers of electronic items being bought and shipped to his address, paid for by his “partner” with stolen credit card numbers. The bank had contacted the police, citing the customer as a victim of the fraud.
Kai Fong said it was common for customers caught up in romance or relationship scams to be resistant to finding out they have been scammed. He said it was one of the most devastating things that could happen to a person. “The think they’re in a relationship with their beloved.
“Sadly, we do see cases where a customer will refuse assistance even when they have been presented the facts.
“Relationship scams are really upsetting because the victims feel like they are in a real, authentic relationship. Then they find out it’s a scam and their world comes crashing down around them – it’s devastating.
“These scams are often perpetrated over months, sometimes years with the scammer establishing what feels like a very real, deep emotional connection with their victims before beginning the scam itself.
“When we find these scams we often ask the victim to get their family and friends involved to ensure they have a network of support around them as we unwind the fraud. Even if you get money back, the emotional damage can be severe. The victims are left feeling duped and vulnerable and it has very real repercussions for the victim in their other relationships.”
He said people should watch out for situations where they were asked to do something that was a bit unusual or not expected.
But complex scams in particular could draw people in so that while anyone looking from the outside would see that there was something not right, it was not so easy for the victim to realise.
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